I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Saturday, June 14, 2014

If You Don't Know Much About Education, Don't Write About It

I spend most of my time on this blog writing about education. Why? Because I'm a teacher and a student of education policy, so I have informed opinions about the subject.

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:
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.
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.

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:
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]
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.

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:

Clearly is defender of unions & kids be damned. Bet he'd feel diff if teacher fed his daughter semen cookies.

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?



Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene said...

Could his response been more cretinous? Moreover, why did his mind go there first? Perhaps he's projecting.

Michael Fiorillo said...

Indeed, Robert, the statement is far more revealing of its author than it is of Duke.

Russ Walsh said...

Way to go Jazzman. Sometimes we need to engage these snarky reformy tweeters on their own level. Just did it myself and I felt better. Great piece. Knowledge and facts and research must eventually overcome this misinformed garbage.

J said...

SO not understanding the opposition to co-teaching or team teaching... As a co-teaching veteran, I'll tell you, co-teaching's universal adoption should be the basis for education reform! There are sooo many benefits. BTW, in the Stone Age, when I was a first year teacher, I had THREE other adults in my classroom (the "open classroom"): a paraprofessional, a student teacher and a graduate student teacher. It was AMAZING.

Duke said...

J, purely personal observation, but I've met very few teachers who co-teach who don't think it's a good model. The notion that it inevitably interrupts classes is just silly.

Bob, Mike, Russ: thx.

mp3michael said...

Seems like readers of this blog are unaware that in CA a teacher was blindfolding his students and feeding them cookies with semen and he STILL could not be fired. This is the result of people who oppose all firings of teachers.

jcg said...

My friend, an ex Microsoft employee, summed up the idiocy & hubris of the tech industry guys here. It seems Robertson fits her characterization to a 'T':

"These Silicon Valley guys know their own business--they know nothing about education.
And worse, they bring certain fallacious types of thinking that the techie/MBA world is prone to.

Number one fallacy is the "Silver Bullet Syndrome."
They want the one, quick fix. Every once in awhile, there is one thing that when you change it, everything flips.
But this is a freak event--mostly the world does not work that way.

Number two fallacy is the "Superstar Syndrome."
This is where you think hiring a super-smart, hardworking person--just ONE! the perfect person for the job!--is the silver bullet.
Reference how gaga the techies were over Cory Booker. And then Chris Christie. And Cami Anderson.
If we replace the New Jersey pols with these "smart" people, change will magically happen!!!

Both of these fallacies deny the need to look at and learn about a big system before you can modify it.
They deny the hard work and time, and the many many hands it takes, to fix a big system.

Big systems need to work even when the superstars take a sick day or drop dead or move on.
You need to install good systems and practices--all the way from top to bottom--and follow them.
But before you do that, you have to debug those things a million times.

(How many times have I worked with people who believed that with the right "superstar" they could "beat the system" somehow?
How many "superstars" have I seen promise they could ship a new version of Windows in 1 year, not 4 or 5, despite the
fact that there are MILLIONS of lines of code? Or some other massive project?
How many years has Microsoft spent looking for the chimera of the 2-month testing schedule, when their apps have
millions of lines of codes and it takes years to debug them?
How many times have their own business leaders refused to take on big overhauls of their products, because they thought
they had a quickie fix that would "save time"?)

Some of these guys just think by getting rid of teachers and unions, it will all be fixed. Silver bullet!
(KInd of like Iraq, no? Get rid of that bad government--and magically success will appear. Never mind that
maybe you needed some of the people working there, Iraqis, to make it all happen--purge everybody!)

And then they are surprised to discover that actual human beings are freaked at the idea that
their schools and teachers will disappear with no concrete plans to replace them. I mean, you could just put those
kids on ice for a few years, right? (Would they home school their own kids? fuck no.)"

jcg said...

mp3Michael, I don't now anything about the particular case you mentioned.
However, Snopes has a long list of hoaxes claiming semen was found in food and fed to unsuspecting victims.

Duke said...

jcg, this is why I love you! Many thx.

Giuseppe said...

mp3michael: You are judging and condemning all teachers because of the actions of one sick demented individual? By the way, that teacher had a jury trial, he had a lawyer and he was found guilty and is now in jail for a very long time. Even the worst criminal is innocent until proven guilty. We don't or shouldn't throw people in jail based on unproven allegations. Innocent teachers have been railroaded and been found guilty and only after years in jail were exonerated and found to be innocent. So this is one of the games of the teacher haters and the union haters, to judge all teachers by the crimes of a fractional group of sick demented individuals. That's sick. What about the teachers who are falsely accused, it does happen. The union is there to protect teachers who are falsely accused not to protect criminals. Hey, mp3michael, what if you were falsely accused of child abuse?

Giuseppe said...

mp3michael gave his example and now here's mine of a teacher falsely accused: Tonya Craft, who was absolved of all charges of child molestation in a highly-publicized trial at Ringgold, has filed a lawsuit against her accusers in Federal Court in Rome, Ga. The 52-page complaint asks $25 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

The defendants include parents of the children who brought charges against her, the lead detective in the case, the Catoosa County sheriff and officials who investigated the complaints.

The suit says the children who brought charges against her were coached and that the allegations were not corroborated. It says the former Chickamauga Elementary School teacher suffered humiliation and embarrassment by the two-year ordeal.

After a trial that lasted into the fourth week, a jury in Catoosa County cleared her of 22 counts of child molestation.

Giuseppe said...

A southern Colorado teacher accused of sexual assault on a child has been acquitted.

Travis Clark, a former teacher at Liberty High School, was accused of being involved with a 17-year-old student.

He was charged with sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust. He was acquitted of those charges last week.

Clark was suspended during the investigation, and his contract was not renewed by District 20.


How does this man ever get his reputation back?

Giuseppe said...

@mp3michael: Fairfax teacher Sean Lanigan still suffering from false molestation allegations:

From there, Lanigan spent months in anxious exile, forced from his school, his players, his neighbors and his friends, pondering the possibility of up to 40 years in a state penitentiary.

That soon turned to relief. A jury found him not guilty after just 47 minutes of deliberation — virtually unheard of in a child sex abuse case. Jurors were outraged by the lack of evidence, with one weeping in sympathy during closing arguments.

But still the nightmare continues, as Lanigan struggles to earn back his reputation and career.
Within two weeks of the accuser’s report — without ever speaking to the girl — Fairfax detectives arrested Lanigan and charged him with aggravated sexual battery and abduction. The Washington Post is not naming the accuser because she is a minor.

Police issued a press release with Lanigan’s booking photo and home address, and the school district sent home a letter about his arrest. TV trucks descended on the school and his neighborhood, and Lanigan’s reputation took a lasting beating. Even today, the first thing that comes up in a Google search of Sean Lanigan is a Web site called “Bad Bad Teacher.”
It never occurs to teacher haters like mp3michael that teachers are falsely accused and have their lives and reputations ruined.

jcg said...


The word is getting out. The superpowers of tech industry guys shrink when exposed to air and water.

Giuseppe said...

The "government" school haters seem to think that child abuse only happens in unionized schools. The government appellation is meant as a pejorative, a put down because "everybody" knows that government is inefficient, incompetent and a defender of the status quo. Did I hit most of the reformer talking points? Gee, reformers hate unions, public schools (government schools), government itself and probably democracy, too. Child sexual abuse does occur in non union schools, private schools and religious schools. So should we condemn those schools, too, because of these malefactors?

Rlevy29 said...

I suspect that the objection to team teaching has more to do with $$ than with the practice itself. There are so many positives with team teaching.
1. Teachers learn from each other.
2. It is easier to keep students engaged when there are two people in the room.
3. If a student is disruptive the whole class doesn't lose out because one person can handle the situation while the other one can still teach.
4.When one teacher needs to be out there is still stability in the classroom.
5. Planning lessons together and exchanging ideas.
6. Presenting a united front at parent- teacher conferences.

Giuseppe said...

Recommended reading for Michael Robertson: Jersey Jazzman's Bergen Record spot on Op Ed: http://www.northjersey.com/opinion/opinion-don-t-tamper-with-teacher-tenure-1.1034638
And read the comment by Lloyd Lofthouse, too.
Of course Robertson will probably come up with some snarky vicious non sequitur about the "evil" teachers, he's into demonizing and propaganda.

Duke said...

G, all those links and the many others we could find on this topic need to be put together into one post. It's a really excellent point.

Remind me again why you don't have your own blog...


Ed Harris said...

I guess Michael Robertson forgot that Michelle Rhee's Baltimore Miracle was accomplished when she and another teacher co-taught 70 students for 2 years. (1993-1995)
As a reminder, she moved them from the 13th percentile on the CTBS to 90% of them at the 90th percentile. (Whatever happened to the 7 that didn't make it, she never told, and no one ever asked.)

Ed Harris said...

Here are two stories of two teachers who were falsely accused.
Unfortunately, the second one killed himself.

False Accusations Make Teacher's Life a Nightmare
Behavior: Seven students accused him of sexual touching, then admitted they lied. Regrets fail to explain conduct.

Just after 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 16, gym teacher Ronald Heller was called to his principal's office. He was shown written statements from several sixth-grade students saying they'd seen him in the girls' locker room, hugging one girl in her bra and panties, slapping another on her behind and calling yet another "hot sexy mama."

The wind went out of him.

"I did not do this," Heller, 54, said. "This is a lie."


His reputation sullied, teacher commits suicide
False accusation leads to tragedy in Virginia city
By Timothy Dwyer, Washington Post | February 15, 2004

ROANOKE, Va. -- The two-lane bridge that Ron Mayfield Jr. came to on the morning of his death stands almost 200 feet above the flowing waters where his father took him fishing as a boy and where, years later, he spent hours with his own son, casting for catfish and perch.

He made two final calls on his cellphone, gasping out a farewell to his wife and dialing 911 without saying a word. Then he lay the phone beside the road and straddled the knee-high metal bridge railing.

At an hour when the school day was just getting started 6 miles away at Woodrow Wilson Middle School, Mayfield leaned sideways and let go, falling into the river.

The note he left tucked in the Bible, on the front seat of the car he left properly parked in the rest area by the bridge, began this way:

"I am so sorry for what I have done, but there is no way I could carry on, absolutely no way."

The apology was for taking his own life. He had no need to apologize for what drove him to his death, because Mayfield knew it was untrue.

A student at Woodrow Wilson told authorities that he had been assaulted by Mayfield, 55, who taught English to nonnative speakers. Mayfield denied it, but his word, his reputation, and his spotless record were not enough. He had been suspended, and police were called in to investigate.

What Mayfield did not know as he mounted the bridge that morning was that police had cleared him of wrongdoing.

Duke said...

Ed, that is one of the most famous cases. But it happens more often than you might imagine.

The Robertsons of the world, however, would rather not think about these things.

Giuseppe said...

Jersey Jazzman has a millionaire troll, who would have thunk it, this is one high class place. Robertson's comment is what you would expect of some low brow troll, dung flinger, not of a successful entrepreneur and innovator. I guess he's suffering from the Donald Trump syndrome. In the meantime the vast majority of teachers are working their butts off, trying to do their best in spite of the cruel slings and arrows of imperious millionaires and billionaires. Not to mention the teachers who risked and even gave up their lives in all the recent gun massacres at public schools.

Giuseppe said...

Michael Robertson on poverty (harrumph, what poverty):
"It's the primary reason capitalism is ever improving our lives and why people today live better than those 10-25-50 years ago. It's why 80% of "poor" Americans have phones, TVs, refrigerators and most own a car and live in houses bigger than anywhere else on the planet. - See more at: http://www.michaelrobertson.com/archive.php?minute_id=380#sthash.g23HDS6W.dpuf

So according to this plutocrat, poor people in the US have it great, they should stop whining because they are not as bad off as some poor person in India. This guy needs to read Paul Krugman, Joe Stieglitz, Dean Baker or Thomas Piketty on the worst income inequality in the US since the Gilded Age. The middle class is losing ground and more people are falling into poverty because so much of the wealth is flowing upwards to the top 1%, to guys like Michael Robertson. Just one more reason to love this economic royalist (sarcasm alert).

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