I tried to get through all six of the candidate interviews at Campbell's Brown's little union-bashing festival, but I honestly couldn't take any more and skipped John Kasich. As Peter Greene said, it's easy to get sucked in at first... but after a while, the sheer tonnage of BS just gets to be too much.
Peter did a nice job cataloging the memes the Republican candidates spewed throughout the day. I'd like to follow up and present some actual evidence that refutes just about all of their reformy talking points:
- "Teachers unions protect bad teachers and protect the status quo, which has kept students from achieving." There is no evidence that teachers unions have a negative effect on student learning.
- "Vouchers! Vouchers! Vouchers! Vouchers!" No! No! No! No!
- "Charter schools succeed because they are free of bureaucracy." Everyone agrees that charter schools vary substantially in effectiveness. The overall effect of the entire charter sector on student outcomes, however, is very small. High-profile, "successful" charter operators are only a small portion of the overall sector, which includes many for-profit operators running schools that have demonstrated problems with waste, fraud, and abuse.
As to the small number of "successful" charter operators: evidence continues to show much of their "success" is due to serving different student populations than their hosting school districts. Often attrition rates are very high at these charters, and they don't "backfill" open seats. Many also enjoy significant advantages in resources over their hosts.
- "Competition increases pressure on public schools to perform." While there is some evidence accountability pressures can raise test scores, the effects of private voucher schools on public schools are practically quite small. There is certainly no evidence that voucher accountability pressures are better than other types of reforms.
- "We need to reward good teachers and get rid of the bad ones, just like the 'real world.'" There is little evidence that merit pay systems improve student test scores. And merit pay, as envisioned by "reformers," is actually quite rare in the private sector.
- "Tenure and seniority are drags on student learning." There is no evidence this is true. Teachers show returns in effectiveness from experience late into their careers. The notion of widespread teacher "burn-out" is contradicted by what we know about experience and results. Tenure has never stopped a school district from firing an incompetent teacher, and protects the interests of students and taxpayers as well as teachers.
- "Poor children can learn." Of course they can -- teachers will be the first to tell you so. But poverty has a profound effect on student learning; it's insane to pretend otherwise.
- "More money doesn't lead to better results." This drivel can be traced back to one economist whose work on school finance has been repeatedly debunked. Money, in fact, has a profound effect on school effectiveness.
- "Technology! Technology! Technology!" It's great -- but all attempts to use it to replace traditional schools have failed.
To be fair: this garbage gets repeated by plenty of Democrats. The aversion to evidence found in the reformster world is, sadly, a bipartisan affliction.
But these six Republicans took reform-style truthiness to new depths. Among the individual moments that stood out:
- Jeb! Bush bragging on Florida's 4th grade reading scores, and ignoring every other result on the NAEP that might call into question the awesomeness of his policies.
- Carly Fiorina's claim that California spends more than 48 other states per pupil on K-12 education, which is so completely wrong it's embarrassing. Fiorina also grossly misquoted Karen Lewis, head of the Chicago Teachers Union (more on this later, I hope).
- John Kasich -- again, I didn't watch, but the media jumped on this -- saying he'd close all teachers lounges if he could, a comment so stupid I need say no more.
- Scott Walker claiming he gets education advice from Howard Fuller, who promptly turned around and distanced himself from Walker and many of his anti-teacher, anti-public school policies. Walker also spun a tall tale of a teacher who allegedly lost her job to seniority, despite the fact this same teacher has asked him repeatedly to stop telling her story.
- Bobby Jindal predictably bragged on the alleged success of the charterization of New Orleans' schools. The evidence is slowly dripping in (I am waiting for the real research, not reports about the research that can't be properly examined), but the costs of "reform" in New Orleans, even if they lead to some test score gains, seems unacceptably high.
- Chris Christie -- you can imagine my reaction to this one. So much nonsense to debunk, but perhaps the lowest point was hearing him talk about his own children's education without mentioning how their schools reflect his screaming hypocrisy on education funding.
I don't know about you, but this entire exercise left me wanting a long, hot shower and a strong drink. And, again, the Democrats will be a bit better -- but not by much. The best we can hope for in this election, I think, is a candidate who doesn't treat the teachers unions like the American Nazi Party.
In other words: get ready to set a very low bar in the general election.