I don't spend a lot of time writing about venture capitalism and the tech sector. Why? Because I don't know much about it.
I wish the Silicon Valley-types who are trying to take away teacher tenure would pay the same sort of courtesy to my area of expertise as I do to theirs:
Last school year, I staged a brief sit-in at my local government school. I demanded that my child not be subjected to "tag team teaching" where 2 teachers split teaching duties for a classroom. It's incredibly disruptive for the students because each teacher has their own style and knowledge about students. Plus when one can't make it they bring in substitutes turning the class into a rotating array of teachers. (Teaching is already a part time job with 3 months off in the summer, a 8-2:30 workday, ultra generous vacation days, half days on Wednesday, 'in service' days where there's no students attending and required extended breaks each day, it makes no sense to make it part-part time.)That's from a guy named Michael Robertson, ostensibly a Whitney Tilson of the West Coast: a finance guy sticking his nose into things he clearly knows very little about.
Let's start with co-teaching. There's actually quite a bit of research on the subject; I won't claim to have reviewed it at an expert level (those of you who have can weigh in below), but it's apparent to me that there isn't a body of evidence to suggest the practice is "incredibly disruptive for the students."
I obviously don't know the precise situation Robertson's kid is in, but both the research and my personal experience suggest the vast majority of co-teaching situations are designed for the inclusion of special education students. The literature, unsurprisingly, shows mixed effects of co-teaching ranging from no effects to significant effects (see here, here, here, here, and here for starters) on students' achievement and perceptions.
What the literature doesn't show is that co-teaching is a priori bad for either special education or general education students. Teaching, of course, is an art, and the conditions under which co-teaching will be successful depend greatly on the context. I'm certainly not going to say that Robertson didn't have a legitimate beef with his school without knowing the facts. But his blanket statement here condemning co-teaching is completely unwarranted.
As to the rest of the ignorance in that one paragraph alone:
Teachers work ten-month contracts, so they are paid for ten-months. In general, teachers work about 5/6 of the time as similarly credentialed workers but make about 2/3 of the pay, which is a significant wage gap. The non-salary compensations teachers earn, which have been eroding steadily, don't make up for this gap in wages. Here in New Jersey, the total compensation of teachers has lagged behind that of other college-educated workers for some time.
I don't know where Robertson gets this idea that American teachers have so much free time. Even the Gates Foundation, publishers of the MET study that reformy-types love so much, says teachers work more than 10 hours a day on average. As I've pointed out here many times, even the Bureau of Labor Statistics says you can't count the contract time of teachers as their only time working, because there is so much preparation required for the job. And American teachers work more hours than teachers in just about every other country in the world.
Now, I will say that there is some legitimate research showing teachers do work a little less per week than other similarly credentials professionals ("some" legitimate research - one report is hardly the final word on the matter). But even this study*, showing teachers work slightly fewer hours than a small subset of the rest of the workforce, shows the differential is way, way smaller than Robertson implies here: teaching is hardly a "part-time" job.
One difference between teaching and other professions is that teachers are more likely to bring work home with them. Why? My best guess is that in a profession where about three-quarters of the workforce are women, many teachers are doing double duty at home: grading papers while taking care of their own kids. Teachers are also more likely to be multiple jobholders, likely trying to make up the wage gap they suffer in their school gigs.
My point here is that, just as with his thoughts on co-teaching, Robertson's cartoonish claims just can't be backed up with data or research; reality is far more complex than his blog rantings. Same with his thoughts on teacher quality:
Yes, there are good and bad teachers. There are good and bad venture capitalists, too: it's called life, Mike. But, where other professionals are judged based on how they perform, teachers are judged on how their students perform. And the performance of their students is far more dependent on factors outside of a teacher's control than within it.Parents should have data about the effectiveness of schools and teachers and be able to select what's best for them and their children. The Los Angeles Times recently looked at several years of test scores for Los Angeles children and by comparing where students scored on standardized tests entering the school year and where they exited were able to calculate the impact of teachers. It's called value-added analysis. 20% of teachers are in the BEST category where students showed the most improvement and 20% were the WORST where students saw dramatically lower improvement. It turns out that great teachers can be found at nearly every school, but so can horrible teachers.
VAM tries to control for those factors -- tries, and fails. And the LA Times VAM fails especially spectacularly. Derek Briggs and Ben Domingue at the National Education Policy Center looked hard at the LAT's VAM, and found this:
In other words: even though all VAM models are rife with error (hey, don't take my word for it: just ask the American Statistical Association), the LA Times' model is particularly hacktastic.Next, they developed an alternative, arguably stronger value-added model and compared the results to the L.A. Times model. In addition to the variables used in the Times’ approach, they controlled for (1) a longer history of a student’s test performance, (2) peer influence, and (3) school-level factors. If the L.A. Times model were perfectly accurate, there would be no difference in results between the two models. But this was not the case. For reading outcomes, their findings included the following:
- More than half (53.6%) of the teachers had a different effectiveness rating under the alternative model.
- Among those who changed effectiveness ratings, some moved only moderately, but 8.1% of those teachers identified as “more” or “most” effective under the alternative model are identified as “less” or “least” effective in the L.A. Times model, and 12.6% of those identified as relatively ineffective under the alternative model are identified as effective by the L.A. Times model. The math outcomes weren’t quite as troubling, but the findings included the following:
- Only 60.8% of teachers would retain the same effectiveness rating under both models.
- Among those who did change effectiveness ratings, some moved only moderately, but 1.4% of those teachers identified as effective under the alternative model are identified as ineffective in the L.A. Times model, and 2.7% would go from a rating of ineffective under the alternative model to effective under the L.A. Times model. [emphasis mine]
I get the impression, however, that Robertson isn't the sort of guy who is interested in listening to reason:
I live in San Diego and unfortunately this data is not available for my school district. If it was and my kid was assigned to one of the worst teachers I would stage another sit-in and demand that they be moved. It's worth a day or two sleeping in the principal's office to insure my child gets the attention he deserves.Let me drop the geek-speak, Mike, and talk to you on your own level:
You would, I imagine, agree that that every kid deserves a great teacher, right? How do you propose we increase the overall effectiveness of the teaching corps, then? Write frantic blog posts about how little they work?
What do you do in your field, Mike, when you need to get the best and the brightest to work for your company? Yes, you hold them accountable; I, and every other teacher in America worth their salt, have no problem with that. I'm held accountable for my work every day. I'll even grant you that California's laws regarding tenure need to be fixed to allow that to happen more efficiently.
But is that enough? Would you think you'd get better programmers at one of your tech companies, Mike, if you only instituted a stricter employee evaluation system? Or do you think you'd maybe have to do something more? Might you have to also make the working conditions for your employees better? Give them autonomy along with their accountability? Maybe even, lord forbid, pay them more, because there is an actual labor market out there and people do respond to wage incentives?
Or do you think it would just be enough to publish the names of "bad" programmers in the pages of the LA Times? You're the business expert: tell me if I'm missing something here.
I dare you.
As I was writing this, Mike Robertson decided he wanted to argue about co-teaching, teacher evaluation, and related education policies on this level:
@jerseyjazzman is defender of unions & kids be damned. Bet he'd feel diff if teacher fed his daughter semen cookies. @RayBeckerman
Because if there's one thing all evil teachers unions agree on, it's making sure the schools are full of sexual predators...
This Campbell Brown-inspired idiocy really is the lowest form of sleaze you can imagine. I don't go around saying plutocrats are all indifferent to sexual abuse because Samuel Curtis Johnson III got off easy for abusing his stepdaughter.
(I will say, however, his case shows, yet again, how we clearly have different justice systems for the rich and the poor in this country.)
What makes Robertson think I, or the teachers unions, wouldn't want to see any teacher who engaged in a criminal act removed from their classroom immediately and punished to the full extent of the law?
It seems to me that if anyone screwed up on the case Robertson cites, it was the LAUSD administration of non-educator and iPad salesman John Deasy, along with the LA County Sheriff's office. Even union critics admit Mark Berndt was removed from campus as soon as evidence surfaced of his crimes.
(Apparently, it's a big deal that he wasn't "officially" fired until he actually entered a plea. Because, you know, "innocent before proven guilty" is really nothing more than words in 21st Century America...)
What Brown and Robertson and all the rest have done here is use the most extreme, outrageous examples of criminal behavior by people employed as teachers to make a case that unions protections are responsible for such behavior. That is such a transparently ridiculous argument it doesn't deserve response -- but it does give us insight into the endgame:
Quite often, the outrage against criminals who happen to be teachers is really all about busting unions. Teachers unions are the last bastion of civilian, college-educated worker organization; break them down and the one-percenters pretty much have the American worker right where they want them. The prize is so tempting that those who would see unions die will go to just about any length to make that happen.
So reformy folks take to their blogs and the airwaves and newspaper columns and say the most outrageous, inflammatory, insulting things imaginable just to score cheap rhetorical points. They have no qualms whatsoever about politicizing a sick, disgusting, horrible act like this if it means they can chip away at worker empowerment just a little bit more.
It's a death by a million cuts, and if you have to wallow in the sleaze to get in one more, why the hell not?
ADDING MORE: This whole thing started when Robertson baited me into it on Twitter.
Ray Beckerman, who RT'd my original post that Robertson responded to, doesn't let himself get drawn into Twitter arguments. He's got a point, but sometimes I think you've got to call people out on their nonsense.
* Something's not sitting right with me about this study, especially page 55:
So let's suppose you're a nurse, and you work Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday (from what friends tell me, that's pretty common in the medical field). The survey asks you: "How much did you work during a weekday?" You say: "Eight hours" -- but you only worked four days.
Then the survey asks: "How much did you work on Saturday?" You answer: "Eight hours." Your workweek hours are the same as someone who worked Monday through Friday for eight hours a day, but your overall work would look higher if you combined weekday and Saturday averages.
Another thing: I understand it's also common to work four longer shifts during the week and get three days off in many fields (law enforcement, medicine, etc.). That would raise the hours during a weekday and maybe even a Saturday even when the overall weekly hours are the same.
Is this what happened? Well, Chart 9 shows the overall daily average of workplace time for a teacher: 18 minutes less per day on their job, which is less than the 24 minutes per weekday above. So something's off, I think...
But those teachers are also spending 12 minutes more per day on "household activities."I find that very interesting, largely because, again, the majority of teachers are women and they likely shoulder many of the domestic responsibilities in their households. Are they multi-tasking? Grading papers while making dinner or watching the kids?