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

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bad Reformy Football Analogies

Time for another round of "Bad Reformy Analogies," the game where you spot the analogies used by the corporate education reformer and list the many ways in which it makes absolutely no sense.

Today's "Bad Reformy Analogy" comes from former mediocre Washington D.C. schools chancellor  Michelle Rhee and former mediocre New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein. Ready? Let's play!

It’s hard to watch Robert Griffin III play football and not think about education policy.
RG3, as fans call him, is a rookie who has been playing in the National Football League for all of 18 weeks, but led the Washington Redskins to twice as many victories as they had last year, their first winning season since 2007 and their first divisional championship in 13 years. Now imagine if the Redskins had a little less money to pay salaries next year and cut Griffin from the team, keeping instead a handful of bench-warmers. It sounds ridiculous, but that practice is exactly what happens in most school districts where policies require teachers to be laid off based on seniority, not talent.
How many flaws can you find in this terrible analogy? Here are a few to get you started:

- RG3 may be a rookie in the NFL, but he has been playing football since he was a teenager. He has trained and prepared for hours on end; it's not like he spent five weeks one summer learning to play quarterback in a "Teach Football For America" program.

- The Redskins spent money acquiring Griffin because they figure he will get them a good return on their investment that they can estimate accurately. There is no way to directly measure a teacher's return on the investment in his or her salary. The notion that a teacher can be judged as "irreplaceable" in the same way that RG3 is irreplaceable to the Redskins is just silly.

- Last night, the Redskins would have looked really, really stupid if they didn't have a bench-warming backup quarterback when RG3 came out of the game. Not everyone can win the Heisman; we need a stable corps of competent teachers, not a few superstars and a constantly shifting crew of backups.

- Measuring a teacher's worth on the basis of one standardized test her class takes late in the year is like measuring RG3's worth on the basis of last night's performance: after all, the playoffs are a "cumulative, high-stakes exam," right?

- "Multiple measures" of a teacher's worth still put all of the emphasis on the measure that is most variable: the standardized test. Remember: some of the evaluation, all of the decision. Again, that's like the Redskins' front office making a decision to retain RG3 solely on the basis of last night's game.

- Why would the Redskins suddenly have "a little bit less money"? The NFL instituted revenue sharing so that poorer teams in smaller markets would be more competitive, and revenue projections would be more consistent. Too bad StudentsFirst doesn't support school funding fairness the way the NFL  supports revenue sharing (grudgingly in many cases, I admit); it would go a long way toward eliminating the teacher layoffs SF seems to love.

- Would RG3 be as good as he is if he had to play with the Eagles crappy offensive line (yeah, I'm bitter - but that's the life of the Philly sports fan)? What if he played for the Saints and had to suffer their terrible defense? (OK, Washington's defense was not very good either - I'll give you that one...). Don't you think a front office looks at the context in which a player plays? Just like a good principal determines the context in which a teacher teaches?

- Would any NFL franchise use a value-added system to rank a quarterback like RG3 that eminent statisticians agreed was lacking in validity and reliability? A system that had error rates as high as 30%? That classified players that coaches agreed were valuable as poor performers?

- Griffin is the member of a powerful workers union. That union recently negotiated to protect its veterans and treat rookies separately from vets for their first five years. And NFL minimum salaries are based on seniority.

- Finally: the scale of money we're talking about for professional football players dwarves anything teachers would ever dream of making; the entire analogy is incredibly stupid on this basis alone.

Of course, both teachers and football players only work part of the year...

We all knew Rhee and Klein know nothing about schools. Turns out they know even less about football.

StudentsFirst knows less about football than I know about running a charter school!

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