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

Friday, May 27, 2011

Reformy Logic

I really do mean it when I say that many in the corporate reform movement appear not to have thought their arguments through. For example: I took another look at "Restructuring Teacher Pay to Reward Excellence" from the National Council on Teacher Quality, and found this:

As painful as the recession has been on
school districts, it provides a useful
opportunity to reexamine how money is spent. 
When negotiating new teacher contracts, most districts, no doubt, are focusing discussions on averting
wage freezes and massive layoffs. But prudent districts—those looking for long-term solutions to budget
problems as well as those seeking to more fairly compensate the most effective teachers—are reconsidering
the traditional salary schedule, which rewards teachers for years of experience and graduate credits. 
More than a half century ago, districts developed teacher salary schedules, embedding the incentives for both
experience and education as a response to real inequities in pay. Previously, higher salaries had been reserved for principals’ favorites, high school teachers rather than their elementary counterparts and males instead of females. But today, one can make the case that the current approach to teacher compensation has outlived its usefulness. For example, accountability systems discourage principals from making salary choices that are not in a school’s best interest and anti-discrimination laws protect teachers against unjust compensation decisions. 
Most significantly, the salary schedule, as currently defined, does not consider teacher effectiveness, making it
inherently unfair to talented teachers. It has also led to “wage compression,” meaning that teachers with the
most aptitude earn no more than teachers with the lowest aptitude, rendering teaching an unattractive career
choice for talented college graduates.1
OK, the recession will decrease school revenues. So schools should look at getting rid of salary guides or modifying them as a way to save money.


The only way that would work is if the teacher makes LESS over his or her entire career, right? I mean, you wouldn't want a teacher to make MORE if revenues are down, wouldn't you?
Despite comparable starting and ending salaries, teachers
in Detroit, Boston and Columbus earn significantly more
during their careers than teachers in Broward, Pittsburgh
and Northside because they do not have to wait until the
end of their careers to receive a competitive salary. (p. 7)
So, in a time of decreasing revenues, NCTQ wants to raise the total payroll of teachers. Because the recession is giving us an opportunity to do so, as revenues are down. Or something; it's confusing...

By the way, NCTQ doesn't really give any practical strategies for how a district would implement their plan. Would you make the veterans take a pay cut? Good luck with that. They suggest eliminating masters bonuses; yes, after your staff has put in all those hours earning degrees, let's get rid of any reward for doing so - that'll raise morale...

Again: these people don't work in schools, so they don't know what's going on. I'm left to wonder: does the ABA release a lot of policy papers on public lawyer employment by written by people who aren't lawyers? Does the AMA support non-doctors and ONLY non-doctors making compensation policies for their members who are public servants?

Hey, but those are REAL professionals...

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Reformy Confession

Via Bruce Baker on the Twitter machine - the very reformy National Council on Teacher Quality admits that even the best teachers aren't the X-Men:
As someone who runs a teacher quality organization, clearly I'd love it if that statement were even remotely accurate but,to be blunt, it's dead wrong. The 'teachers matter' refrain has been spouted so much in the past ten years that, predictably, we've lost important perspective. The truth is that SES and family background still swamp school effects by a 3:1 margin.
In spite of these odds, we can still have daily reminders that teachers matter plenty. But we do schools and teachers an injustice by inflicting upon them superhero powers, especially when we also wrongly insist that superhero status can be achieved just by being basically smart and stupendous results are possible no matter what curriculum is used.
Make no mistake about it. Overcoming the learning deficits of many poor and minority children is a monumental task, one that will take even more collective resolve than putting the first human being on the moon. Teachers deserve an honest accounting of the challenge.
If that's true, Kate, then why are you guys pushing so hard to pay teachers based on (highly inaccurate) measures of student performance?

I still contend that one of the largest problems of the corporate reform movement is that it is being run by people who don't have enough real-life teaching and administration experience. This is a great example. Walsh admits SES "swamps" school effects (of which "teacher quality" is still a subset). Yet she supports using student test scores as a basis for awarding merit pay.

But every elementary teacher knows classes are different. Yes, principals will makes class lists that attempt to distribute academic talent, but they also take into account special needs, disruptive behavior, parents (yes, folks, they do), friendships, and a whole host of other factors. I've seen principals who've unintentionally given a teacher a rough group try to make up for it by giving them an "easier" group the next year. I've seen principals who identify a teacher in a grade level as the one who can get "tough" kids back in line; their Value-Added Modeling scores would never be as high as their peers, but that doesn't mean they aren't doing the job well.

If we're hellbent on using test scores and VAM to rate teachers, all of that has to be thrown away. The only fair way to proceed would be to instead sort the students demographically and then evenly distribute them among classrooms. Let's leave aside that sorting the kids would be impractical, invasive, and probably illegal ("This kid goes in the Asian/male/lower-middle-class/single-parent/heterosexual(we think)/non-college-educated-parents/ESL pile..."). How would you distribute them? By school? Across a district? Across a region?

"Hey, your school has too many white kids; I'll trade you for three free-lunch students and a Pacific-Islander to be named later..."

Are we prepared to go through this just so we can have a teacher evaluation system based on invalid and unreliable measures that is supposed to root out an unspecified number of "bad" teachers? It's insane to even consider it - if you know something about how schools work.

These people clearly do not; further evidence is found in a footnote to Walsh's piece:
*Dale Ballou and others have observed that the teacher contribution is probably somewhat larger the statistics indicate, given that achievement may be mistakenly assigned to SES because parents with the capacity to do so choose their schools and teachers (e.g. through residential choice). Still it would only be marginally larger.
So higher SES parents "choose" "better" teachers. Does Ballou think those teachers who teach high-SES kids would be just as good at teaching low-SES kids?

I'm not even referring to the obvious circular logic here ("good" students make "good" teachers - duh): I'm asking, does a teacher who knows how to reach affluent, suburban, white kids necessarily know how to teach poor, urban, minority kids? Could it possibly be that some teachers teach particular groups of kids better than others?

The answer is obvious, and it negates Ballou's argument. But that's hardly surprising; this stuff is being worked out in the rarified air of Washington think tanks, far from the odor of Crayolas and mystery meat. These people have not reached out to those of us down in the trenches; they consider us the problem, and have convinced themselves it's their duty to "fix" us.

If they'd just stop and listen, maybe they'd see that they are making mistakes that are going to haunt public education for years to come.

Join The Club

Is there anyone left that Christie has yet to alienate?
During arguments before the high court several weeks ago the lawyer representing the state, former Justice Peter Verniero, contended that the state was in dire financial circumstances and could not afford to provide the aid. Albin then asked about Christie's decision to not renew a millionaires tax to raise revenue. At a subsequent town hall meeting and on a conservative radio talk show, Christie accused Albin of dictating from the bench and complained about how "judges have lost their sense of place in our democracy."
Albin has not commented on the attacks, and neither has Rabner.
The newly installed bar association president, Susan Feeney, briefly took up the topic Friday, and while she didn't name any culprits or delve into the details, her comments were pointed.
"The New Jersey State Bar Association will always stand for and speak out about the integrity and independence of our judiciary," Feeney said before introducing Rabner. "The kind of attacks on the court and the individual justices and the independence of the judiciary has been audacious and offensive. The criticism is unfair and unwarranted. It threatens the judiciary and it is the public who will suffer most if it continues. The State Bar Association will stand by the judiciary on this essential need for judicial independence."
Christie's office declined to comment. [emphasis mine]
You can't govern this way - you just can't. You can maybe build a political base, but there's just no way to bring stakeholders together and craft real solutions to real problems when your first impulse is to demonize everyone who disagrees with you.

He's demonized teachers across the state - while cowardly claiming he's really only going after the NJEA. Ask any teacher, and they will tell you this has had real consequences in the classroom and in their daily lives. He has belittled public education - a bedrock of our democracy - to score a few political points.

Now he's going after the judiciary. Does he think he can spray this invective all over the media and there won't be consequences there?

Chris Christie assumes bad faith on the part of everyone who doesn't see things his way. He is willing to use his pulpit to denigrate the very institutions our society is founded on, without any regard for the repercussions of his words and actions.

It's very disturbing that a man likes this holds high office.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What's The Rush?

Apparently, it is critically important for New Jersey to put a teacher evaluation system that all research shows will not work into place right away.
A new system to evaluate public school teachers will be introduced this fall as a pilot program in some districts across the state, a department of education official said this morning.
While testifying before the state Senate Education Committee, Andrew Smarick said the Christie Administration hopes to introduce the new system in which teachers would be evaluted partially on test scores and partially on classroom observations to all districts by the start of the 2012 school year.
The governor has proposed legislation that would link teachers’ performance under the new system to decisions about tenure, merit pay and layoffs. The Christie-appointed New Jersey Educator Effectiveness Task Force crafted the revamped evaluation tool, unveiled in March. [emphasis mine]
Oh, really? Because when I looked at what came out in March, I didn't see a "tool" at all. I saw a bunch of vague ideas about using standardized tests to rank some teachers, along with observations by administrators (which happen to be used now anyway). Much of the report basically says "we'll work out the details later..."

Well, now Christie and Cerf want to shove this down the throats of districts in about three months. There won't be time for hearings, there won't be time for expert testimony, there won't be time for all stakeholders to weigh in and shape the program, and their sure won't be time to actually assess the effectiveness of the program (see the irony?).

As I and others have hammered over and over again, the use of these standardized tests is contradicted by all serious research. The legal entanglements will be astonishing.  So what's the rush? Why not take the time to do this right?

Here's why:

He's getting a ton of love from the national Republican elite, but Chris Christie's approval ratings at home are softening, according to a new poll.
A Monmouth University survey released Wednesday shows the New Jersey governor with a 47 percent approval rating among state residents, compared to 49 percent who disapprove of his performance. Christie's approval rating is the same as it was in a February Monmouth poll, but his negative number has climbed by 9 points since then.
He never really had a mandate, because he ran on lies - look at the top of this blog for his biggest one. Now he's being found out and he's sinking fast. He's going to push this stuff through as hard as he can as early as he can, because he's getting the feeling it's all going downhill from here.

I hope he's right.

Testing Nation

The Bergen Record is shocked - shocked! - that there is cheating in high-stakes testing:
Yet teachers have repeatedly overstepped their bounds on testing day, including a widespread cheating scandal in Camden that was snuffed out by the state in 2005. And last year, teachers broke test-security rules at eight New Jersey schools, including four in Bergen County, Staff Writer Leslie Brody reported. In Woodcliff LakeLyndhurst and Elmwood Park, teachers gave some students extra time, guided others toward correct answers and passed around copies of essay questions. Meanwhile, as students tackle tests again this month, the state is looking into new allegations of security problems. 
It's no wonder, given the inclination of an educator and the high stakes of the exams. If too many students fail the tests, entire schools are deemed "failing" and subjected to a host of sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law, including offering transfers, restructuring or shutting down altogether. In addition, an annual report on schools' scores is widely published, including in The Record, which gives parents, educators and real-estate agents everywhere the chance to unofficially declare which local schools are good, better and best. 
There is robust debate over the adequacy of any standardized test to measure student learning, especially regarding special-needs students. But there can be no debate when it comes to following test-taking rules. Whether intentional or not, coaching is cheating. And that undermines the results, not to mention taxpayers' multimillion-dollar investment in the state testing program.
Hey, I've got a crazy idea: why doesn't the Bergen Record stop publishing the results? Especially since there is a "robust debate of their adequacy"? Maybe the schools will start using the tests as they are intended - as a measure of student progress and instructional methods - instead of advertisements that raise property values.

Of course, the realty industry has a vested interest in publishing test scores, and the Record has a vested interest in keeping the realtors happy - ever notice what makes up most of the Sunday classified section?

And the LA Times has led the way in showing how publishing these rankings of questionable "adequacy" can help the bottom lines of struggling newspapers.

So you'll forgive me if I'm skeptical hearing the tut-tutting from the press over the misuse of test scores. They've already shown they are more than ready to misuse them.

Everyone agrees that no one should cheat on standardized tests. The question is, as the stakes get higher and higher, how much are we willing to invest to secure the testing process? And is that investment of time and resources worth it?
State education officials have done a yeoman's job in building and improving New Jersey's testing program, which was ordered by the federal government with little financial support. But clearly, there's more to be done. Individual schools have decided to stop allowing teachers to proctor their own students' exams. This seems a common-sense, and low-cost, place to start.
First of all, I and many others have some serious reservations about that first statement, primarily because test security won't allow us to judge the validity or reliability of the tests themselves. There are many reasons to believe these tests are not particularly good indicators of student achievement; they are certainly terrible indicators of teaching ability.

But even if they were - what makes the Record think it will be "low-cost" to have teachers not proctor the exams? Who's going to do it? Substitutes? Guess what, folks: subs are hired and recommended by principals - the very same principals who have an interest in having their schools do well on exams.

The only way to increase the security of the test process is to take the entire enterprise away from the district and put it into independent hands. And that sounds like another slopping for the testing industry hogs to me.

How Not To Treat Professionals

Los Angeles shows us how:
Tying ratings of teachers to student achievement took a new twist on May 10 when the Board of Education of the Los Angeles Unified School District decided that all members of Huntington Park High School must reinterview for their jobs even though the school met improvement goals on standardized tests. The plan is expected to result in the replacement of at least half the faculty by July when the start of school for the year-round campus begins ("L.A. district plans shakeup at Huntington Park High," Los Angeles Times, May 10).
What makes the decision so controversial is that the school demonstrated progress last fall on the closely watched standardized tests. But board member Yolie Flores, who is an alumna of Huntington Park High School and who represents the area in which the school is located, expressed frustration over the pace of improvement. "This school has been waiting for decades, and people say wait a little longer. To me, it's a stall tactic. I'm tired of waiting," she said.
I guess professionals serve at the pleasure of a petulant school board member...
The LAUSD's decision further confirms the need for tenure. If it is eliminated, which reformers demand, then what is to prevent the same kind of arbitrary move to single out individual teachers who for one reason or another have rubbed the board of education the wrong way? I'm referring to teachers who speak out about controversial issues. Without tenure, they will be effectively muzzled, much to the detriment of students.
Eliminating tenure is as much about consolidating political power as anything else. Take away a teacher's right to get involved in the political process, and you remove yet another challenge to the status quo. Board members know this; so do politicians.

Republicans have a predilection for cronyism, but Democrats are quite adept at the game as well. Removing tenure ensures a steady stream of jobs both parties can give to hacks. No one who cares about teacher quality should support do away with it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

NJ's Worst Pundit

Bob "Hoover" Ingle is just appalled when a politician intentionally uses bad grammar to create some light humor:
Sen. Nick Sacco is one of your grandfathered-in triple-dipper pols — state senator, mayor of North Bergen and an assistant superintendent of Hudson County schools. That last one comes to mind after seeing his ad for re-election to mayor. “I don’t know where you be from, but I be from North Bergen, son.” He’s been a member of the NJEA since 1968, according to his bio. Assistant superintendent of schools, indeed. He ought to resign out of embarrassment.
As a professional writer, Hoover is so disgusted at this idiomatic turn of a phrase that he's calling for Sacco to step down. Because nothing is worse than a professional intentionally using bad grammar - except for:
Ain't This Typical
"It was discovered when working on plans for a new state park, Capital State Park, and that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon, either, for the same reason."
"Say it ain’t so."
 "But pitchin’ ain’t my strong suit."
I could go on, but you get the point. Hoover be the biggest tool in NJ...
I ain't gonna stop suckin' up to the guv!

NY Post to Newark's Parents: STFU

Rupert Murdoch is "appalled" that you Newark parents are questioning your betters:
Why isn't it surprising that Cami Anderson, the newly appointed superintendent of Newark's failing school system, got a Cathie Black-style reception -- boos and heckling -- from parents at her first public appearance? 
Not to mention a warning by the head of the local teachers union that "there's going to be no honeymoon" if she tries to implement New York-style reforms. 
Last week, Gov. Chris Christie appointed her to run the public schools in New Jersey's largest city -- a system that has been under state supervision since 1995, after decades of abysmal performance.
Listen, you ingrates, you can't expect the state to give you results after SIXTEEN YEARS of running your schools. Lord knows it would be much, much worse if you were left to run them yourselves. Because... well, you know...
Indeed, Christie noted that his parents left Newark when he was 5 because of the schools: "I don't think I'd be governor if I went to school here in Newark."
Oh, that's why your folks left - "the schools"? What, Shabazz HS didn't offer Latin?

White flight has been a feature of American cities for decades. It's a serious issue and it deserves a serious discussion. But that would mean taking a hard look at the endemic poverty of our cities and the racism that accompanies it. It would also require that the governor stop using schools as an excuse for the larger problems our society faces. Think that's going to happen?

In any case, guv, when your parents moved you to Livingston "for the schools," they enrolled you in a district where they would get to have a say in the way the schools were run. They would get to vote for the school board that hired your superintendent; they would hold that board accountable for the use of their tax dollars. Do you think they would have been happy to move you to a district where the state came in and told them it knew better than they did how to run your school?
But from the moment of her appointment, she was targeted for criticism and
derision -- not, like Black, because she lacked a record, but because she isn't from Newark. And, as the head of one local advocacy group told The New York Times, because she's white. 
That last point is appalling, but unsurprising. Many of Anderson's critics just want a return to the kind of race-driven "community control" policies that roiled New York's school system for decades.
[Warning: intense sarcasm ahead.]

As we all know by now - thanks, in large part, to the courageous "reporting" of Murdoch's many fine "news" organs (Fox, WSJ, NY Post, etc.) - the real racists in our society are minorities. It's blatantly racist to insist on local control of your schools when live in the inner city. And anyone who doesn't implicitly trust rich, white outsiders to come into their community and tell them how to run their schools may as well just wear a white sheet over their heads.
And as for coming from "the outside" -- well, if local educators had produced better results, Newark's schools wouldn't be well into their second decade of supervision by Trenton.
Yes, because look how well the last decade and a half of state control has worked out...
US Education Secretary Arne Duncan is optimistic that Anderson has the kind of "bold vision" needed to ensure Newark's kids get "a high-quality public education." And she'll be aided by an injection of up to $200 million, courtesy of a matching grant from Facebook's CEO. 
Bringing in someone who's not part of the status quo helps ensure that the money -- one-fifth of the total schools budget -- won't simply vanish.
Look, Newark parents, I know you care about your kids and all that, but let's get our priorities straight, OK? A very rich white guy has come in and given a fraction of his wealth to your schools. Sure, he doesn't know jack about education, and yeah,  Corey Booker and Chris Cerf and all these other elites have been making secret plans to push "solutions" on to you that research shows won't work...

... but it's not like you have a lot of skin in the game. Zuckerberg gave MONEY! His investment has to be protected. And the only thing you have invested in the schools are your kids.

So, just do what the Post tells you to do: STFU.

Hey, Newark parents: like Rupert says, STFU.

Shake Your Boutique

Is it possible that Cerf and Christie are starting to figure out that their "cure" for New Jersey's already excellent suburban public schools is something their base really doesn't need or want?
In Livingston, critics of the special-interest charter applications contend the schools will drain money away from the traditional public schools and lead to segregation. The debate is being heard everywhere, from the school playground to dozens of opinions being offered on Patch and other media sites.
In his softening stance toward suburban charters, Cerf said, “I can certainly see, particularly in successful school districts, particularly in smaller suburban ones that are kind of humming along, that sort of marginal gain of having a school that serves a particular boutique need … the cost-benefit analyst might take you in the direction of: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Cerf said.
“I can very much understand how that would be a sensible policy argument,” he said.
Charter schools in New Jersey are being approved in records numbers, and the two Mandarin charters for Livingston would open in September 2012 if approved by the NJ Department of Education.
If anyone can explain why the kids in Livingston need a Mandarin immersion school, let me know. Is it for the Chinese-American kids? Don't they need to be immersed in English?

One of the primary reasons folks spend a fortune on houses in districts like Livingston is to send their kids to schools that have small class sizes and lots of electives. So when a charter comes in and threatens to take away the funding for that, you can imagine people are not going to be happy:
On Monday night, the questions by elected school officials focused on money and concern that the charters would funnel funds away from districts already dealing with diminishing budgets. 
That’s been the case in Princeton, where the Princeton Charter School has existed for the past 12 years, said Rebecca Cox, Princeton's school board president. The district will write a check for $4.5 million to cover the costs of the 340 students who attend the K-8 charter school, Cox said.
Last year, Princeton Regional Schools cut its world language program to pay the charter school bill. “There’s great irony in that and quite frankly it felt misguided,” said Superintendent Dr. Judy Wilson.
Local school leaders zeroed in on the financial impact. In Livingston, the figure is estimated at about $500,000 for the first year of a charter’s operation.
"When we're trying to cut where we can, this is adding costs. That is my biggest concern," said Millburn Superintendent James Crisfield after the forum.
The way it stands now, the school boards will not have a say in whether charters open in their districts. That will be the decision of the NJ Department of Education. But there is movement in the legislature to give local voters a choice.
So let's review: Christie's base is in the 'burbs. He's rewarded that base by slashing their state aid - in some cases by 100% - and now he's pushing to force them to accept charters they don't need at the expense of school programs they want.

Yeah, my guess is they're going to want to rethink this a little...

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Testing Companies Want Your Money!

And they're looking to get it in New York!
New York state is weighing whether to prohibit high-school teachers from grading their own students' Regents exams. The Board of Regents, which sets education policy for the state, is set to vote next week on the ban.
The proposed rule is tucked into regulations governing an overhaul of teacher and principal evaluations. Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring the state to revamp the evaluations and tie them, in part, to student standardized test scores.
In New York, teachers have been grading their own students' Regents tests for decades. Students need to pass five Regents tests to obtain a high-school diploma. The proposed rule also applies to elementary and intermediate grade-school tests, but schools typically send those tests outside for scoring. [emphasis mine]
Yes, let's shovel even more money away from the classroom to have non-teachers grade tests that weren't designed to evaluate teachers so they can be used to... evaluate teachers.
Mr. Dunn said the proposal was made because an independent advisory group of "nationally known experts," which advises the state on assessment issues, recommended that "educators not have a vested interest in the exams they score."
Well, if the teachers are going to be evaluated on the scores, they really shouldn't proctor the exams, either; better contract with someone to fix that. And we don't want them skewing results by doing test prep exercises in class...

Maybe someone else should teach the courses; the tests scores will then determine the career of the teacher who isn't teaching the kids.

It makes as much sense as anything else being proposed by the corporate reformers...

What Motivates the Corporate Reformers?

What drives today's corporate reformer? Rick Hess gives a clue:
It was almost fifteen years ago now that I was sharing my Harvard dissertation, on the dynamics of school reform in fifty-seven urban districts, with a few potential publishers. 
The interesting part was the response from the six education professors who reviewed the manuscript for TCP and HUP. Unanimously, they declared the manuscript to be uninteresting, unimportant, mean-spirited, and undeserving of publication. They thought my characterization of popular reforms, like block-scheduling and site-based management, was uncharitable. They thought my interpretation of the institutional politics was callous, unduly harsh, and devoid of any new insights. 
At the National Press Club event where the piece was launched, my friend David Imig, the then-president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, declared that my arguments qualified not even as "old wine in new bottles" but just "old wine in old bottles." He suggested that the University of Virginia (my then-employer) really ought to consider whether, given my skepticism about teacher education, I deserved to be employed at its School of Education.
Two years later, when I departed UVA for AEI, many of my ed school colleagues enthusiastically ushered me to the door, with my program chair taking care to tell me that he regarded my work as trivial and insignificant.
Well... that certainly explains a lot, doesn't it?

I'll show you guys... I'll show you all!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Silent Blog...

... holy blog...

Sorry, but I've got some composing deadlines that can not wait. Be back up Friday at the latest.

Until then, the chef recommends:

Blue Jersey

School Finance 101

stopthefreezeNJ on Twitter

And of course the many fine blogs for your reading pleasure at your left.

It's been an interesting week - sorry to sit out a bit, but the snark will be back soon.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Casual Reformy Thinking

You'll not find a better example of the casual thinking that characterizes so much of the corporate "reform" movement than this piece by Rick Hess:
On Wednesday, I stirred a bit of a hornet's nest when I wrote, "I think that...many people teaching today probably shouldn't be." Given the charged response from readers demanding that I justify this assertion, I'll say a few more words.
First, it strikes me as a banal, unremarkable statement, one that I've uttered regarding attorneys, professors, journalists, salesmen, federal bureaucrats, think tankers, and district administrators. In this context it wasn't intended as an attack on educators, which is what made the heated response so noteworthy. People vary in talent, energy, and performance, and this means there are poor performers everywhere--even in fields with relatively stringent selection or hiring requirements.
See, the last I checked, Rick, no one was leading coordinated, nation-wide attack on the compensation and evaluation of attorneys, professors, journalists, salesmen...

It's completely disingenuous for anyone who writes about education regularly to say that what's going on is just an acknowledgement of a bell curve effect. This has been an attack across the board on the entire profession; an attack that is meant to distract from both the excellent work our schools do with students who do not have racial and economic problems to overcome, and from the real reasons for those racial and economic problems.
Second, education hires a lot of educators. We've 3.4 million teachers in the U.S., which represents more than ten percent of the college educated workforce. That's twice the number of lawyers and doctors, combined. The more people you need, the more challenging it is to ensure quality. In 2005, The New Teacher Project (TNTP)reported that, "Urban schools are forced to hire large numbers of teachers they do not want." It's no surprise that supes struggling with class size mandates, from Florida to California, have told me they've sometimes had to hire lousy candidates just to fill classrooms.
I just love how these think-tank types hang their hats on a study or two that favors their point of view; or how they use a combination of argument by authority and anecdote to make their case ("I'm an expert, and people tell me that blah blah blah..."). But the logic here is ridiculous: Hess provides no evidence that teachers do their jobs any worse than lawyers or doctors (I personally think we've got the lawyers beat by a country mile).

If Hess wants to make the argument that the skill set required to be a good doctor is more difficult to come by than the set required to be a good teacher, and that leads, in part, to smaller numbers of doctors, OK, I agree. But that doesn't a priori make the distribution of doctors across the bell curve of "good/bad" any different.
Third, the challenge is aggravated by weak quality control. As I wrote Wednesday, "Teacher education programs and school districts generally do a mediocre job of preparing educators and a pretty awful job of screening out lousy educators." Several years ago, University of Texas professor David Leal reported that teacher preparation programs actively screen out about two percent of aspiring teachers (including during candidates' student teaching). In its 2009 The Widget Effect report, TNTP reported that districts consistently judge 99 percent of their teachers to be satisfactory, suggesting (in TNTP's estimation) that district performance evaluation is broken.
I'm not going to comment on Leal's research until I've read it, but there's a lot here Hess is leaving out. What does "screen out" mean? Students who were actively removed from their programs? If so, I'm surprised the number is that high; like in the tenure debate, the number of people who are actually removed through the tenure process is a fraction of the total who are eased out through persuasion.

The question here is whether Leal, Hess, or the reformers who rely on their research have ever taken into account self-selection. This is a very hard job to do when you do it badly. If you don't like kids, if you're not organized, if you have poor communications skills... you're going to figure out pretty quickly that this is not the career for you.

The implication is that there are significant numbers of "bad" teachers who slipped through the system when they should have been weeded out, but that the perks of the job are so fantastic that these "bad" teachers stay anyway. If that's true, then why aren't more people lining up to do the job? Why are those supers in FL and CA hiring "bad" teachers? Surely, if this is a job that takes poor performers and rewards them fantastically, there must be many more people lining up to get into the profession, and some of those people must be "good."

Of course, that's not the case. What's really happening is that those supers are hiring people for short stretches, who leave when they can't do the job. The turnover rate on new teachers is anywhere between 25% and 50%, depending on whom you read. That's a far better indication of self-selection working than anything Hess cites indicating "bad" teachers run rampant in our schools.
Fourth, teachers themselves say that they teach alongside colleagues who shouldn't be in classrooms. Public Agenda has reported that 78 percent of teachers say there are at least a few teachers in their school who "fail to do a good job and are simply going through the motions." In a Public Agenda focus group, one New Jersey union representative confessed, "I've gone in and defended teachers who shouldn't even be pumping gas."
Of course they say that: everybody says that in any job (ever watch The Office?). Whether it's true or not is another matter. And defending due process is not the same as admitting that there are significant numbers of "bad" teachers.
My take is also informed by a half-decade supervising student teachers and research and school observations in a lot of districts. [more argument by authority... yeesh...] But let's keep it simple. If 75 percent of the nation's 100,000 schools have at least a couple teachers who shouldn't be teaching, that means teachers themselves are reporting that 150,000 or more of their colleagues probably shouldn't be teaching. In my book, that's "many."
Oh, come on. 150,000/3.4 million = about 4.4%. That's the crisis? We have to radically transform the entire school system for that small of a percentage? We have to institute teacher evaluations by tests we know for a fact - and Hess admits - are unreliable on the basis of less than 5% of the teaching corps?

This is absurd. We are going to put our kids through a massive testing regime on the basis of a "crisis" that Hess can't even make a decent argument exists.

This lack of rigorous thinking from the corporate reformers is going to lead us down a dangerous road. We are seriously looking at breaking our schools to fix a problem that does not exist. It's disturbing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mission Accomplished

The New Kleptocracy

They are just shameless:
New York City’s Department of Education already has contracts with Wireless Generation — a Brooklyn-based education technology company — but the timing of this latest one is bound to cause a stir, fairly or not.
About six months after former Schools Chancellor Joel Klein joined News Corporation and the company bought Wireless Generation, the DOE plans to award it a $1.5 million contract. The document describing the three-year contract says only that it is for “published and copyrighted assessment and testing materials.” A spokesperson for the DOE said a fuller description of the contract was still being written and would not be available until several days before the Panel for Educational Policy meeting on May 18, when the contract will be voted on.
There's nothing to add to this - you can't make satire out of something so brazen.

Deep Reformy Thoughts

Governor Chris Christie says the only purpose of the teachers union is to protect bad teachers.

But "bad" teachers pay the same in union dues as "good" teachers.

Why would the union care if a "bad" teacher was replaced with a "good" teacher? In fact, if they pay the same in dues, but the "good" teacher is less likely to need representation, the "greedy" union would make more money on a "good" teacher, right?

But, uh... er...

This has been another "Deep Reformy Thought."

(All praise to thinker in the comments, from whom I totally stole this!)

Teacher Bashing = Woman Bashing

When you hear a corporatist reformer like Chris Christie go on about how there is "greed and excess" in the schools, or that teachers have "me first" attitude, keep in mind two things:

1) 3 out of 4 public school teachers are women.

2) Women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes, and women own 36% of the wealth men do.

Part of that income is in the form of health benefits, and part of that wealth comes from pensions. Both of which Chris Christie wants to slash - and, let's face it, he's hardly alone.

If you have any doubt as to why Christie and Scott Walker and the rest of these thugs free free to go after teachers, let me set you straight: it's because the majority of teachers are women, and misogyny is still widely accepted in our society - especially when it comes to economic equality.

The plain fact is that teacher pay has not kept pace with the rest of the workforce. And that is apparently acceptable in America, as evidenced by the persistent gender gap in wages.

Neither of these blowhards have gone after the cops or the firefighters with the zeal with which they've taken after teachers. It's obvious why:

Scott Walker (L) and Chris Christie (R)

Masters Bump For Me, Not For Thee!

Just to follow up on Chris Christie's proposal to do away with using graduate degrees as a criterion for determining teacher pay:

The idea that corporate reformers such as Christie push is that these degrees do not make for better teachers. His own kids, however, go to Delbarton, a tony private school, where they have a slightly different take:
The course of study offers preparation in all major academic subjects and a number of electives.
The studies are intended to help a boy shape a thought and sentence, to speak clearly about ideas and effectively about feelings, and to seek relevant facts in making judgments.
The faculty, many of whom hold higher degrees in field, consists of 80 men and women. And because the average class size is 15 and student-teacher ratio 7:1, the learning environment at Delbarton is designed to be intimate and challenging.
So teachers with advanced degrees are good for the governor's kids, but not for yours or mine. I guess it's an "extra" that his children get to have by virtue of the fact that his family is extremely wealthy, what with Mrs. Christie's part-time job where she pulls down half-a-million a year. That makes Delbarton's $26, 450 tuition a little easier to swallow.

Oh, and notice the student-teacher ratio; another thing the corporate reformers keep telling us doesn't matter.

Still think America isn't an aristocracy?

Deep Reformy Thoughts

So, if experience in teaching doesn't matter, and you want to eliminate tenure to clear out the dead wood to make room for young, vibrant talent...

... why would you raise the retirement age for teachers?

Uh... hmm...

( This is the first in a series of "Deep Reformy Thoughts.")

Crazy Talk

E.D. Kain is talking crazy talk!
Okay, for the sake of argument let’s accept each of Matt’s premises here. Let’s say that Last In, First Out and seniority and compensation schemes based on experience and education don’t make sense (even though much of this is unofficial practice in many other industries). Even accepting these premises I fail to see how implementing a complicated, controversial, financially burdensome and ultimately counterproductive testing regime is the correct answer to getting rid of the bad teachers while attracting good people to the profession.
Here is my alternative plan: make teaching fun and rewarding. Treat teachers as autonomous professionals and make teaching more exclusive. Give teachers in urban and rural areas where turnover is high and schools are under-funded more support. Senior teachers can act as mentors at these schools. Expand the role of veteran teachers beyond classroom instruction. Let them use their experience and knowledge to help new teachers and try to curb the 50% turn-over rates.
Because Matt is right that teachers make a huge difference. He’s just wrong to suggest that we should make teaching a lousy profession that no-one with any common sense would want to make a career out of. Why would talented people want to subject themselves to a teaching job under the sort of conditions that Matt favors? “Accountability” and “value-added” schemes are not only bad at actually gauging teacher quality, they have the really awful side-effect of making teachers all teach to tests.
Were I an enterprising reporter, I'd be checking in with college campuses to see who is signing up to declare a major in education. Who still wants to be a teacher in this climate?