Archives for category: Merit pay

Gene V. Glass here reproduces the Republican platform on education. The Republican platform supports school choice, the public display of the Ten Commandments, merit pay, two-parent families, and a Constitutional amendment to keep government from interfering with parental rights over children. (I am reminded of the day in 2012 when Mitt Romney went into an all-black school in Philadelphia and spoke out about the virtues of two-parent families; the principal told him that few of the children had two parents, which left open the question of what educators are supposed to do in the face of reality.)

The Republican platform supports home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, early-college high schools, and vouchers. It does not mention support for public schools, except as a place where students should be permitted to pray. The platform also believes that military service is a better credential for teaching than any study or practice in a professional education program.

The platform does not acknowledge the growing body of evidence that vouchers and charters do not provide superior educations to poor children.

We support the public display of the Ten Commandments as a reflection of our history and our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage and further affirm the rights of religious students to engage in voluntary prayer at public school events and to have equal access to school facilities. We assert the First Amendment right of freedom of association for religious, private, service, and youth organizations to set their own membership standards.

Children raised in a two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime or become pregnant outside of marriage. We oppose policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation.

We call for removal of structural impediments which progressives throw in the path of poor people: Over-regulation of start-up enterprises, excessive licensing requirements, needless restrictions on formation of schools and day-care centers serving neighborhood families, and restrictions on providing public services in fields like transport and sanitation that close the opportunity door to all but a favored few. We will continue our fight for school choice until all parents can find good, safe schools for their children.

Education: A Chance for Every Child

Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a cultural identity. That is why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces from outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have done immense damage. The federal government should not be a partner in that effort, as the Constitution gives it no role in education. At the heart of the American Experiment lies the greatest political expression of human dignity: The self- evident truth that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Parents are a child’s first and foremost educators, and have primary responsibility for the education of their children. Parents have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing. We support a constitutional amendment to protect that right from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations. We reject a one- size-fits-all approach to education and support a broad range of choices for parents and children at the state and local level. We likewise repeat our long- standing opposition to the imposition of national standards and assessments, encourage the parents and educators who are implementing alternatives to Common Core, and congratulate the states which have successfully repealed it. Their education reform movement calls for choice-based, parent-driven accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of local control of our schools and it wisely sees consumer rights in education — choice — as the most important driving force for renewing education. It rejects excessive testing and “teaching to the test” and supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs. Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education in which all students can reach their potential.

We applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. Administrators need flexibility to innovate and to hold accountable all those responsible for student performance. A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high school districts.

Rigid tenure systems should be replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.

Academic Excellence for All

Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education in which all students can reach their potential. Republicans are leading the effort to create it. Since 1965, the federal government, through more than 100 programs in the Department of Education, has spent $2 trillion on elementary and secondary education with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates. The United States spends an average of more than $12,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $620 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K-12 education in 2011-2012. Of that amount, federal spending amounted to more than $57 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free. More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance. After years of trial and error, we know the policies and methods that have actually made a difference in student advancement: Choice in education; building on the basics; STEM subjects and phonics; career and technical education; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, it must be a key element in our efforts to provide every child equal access and opportunity. We strongly encourage instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers.

Choice in Education

We support options for learning, including home-schooling, career and technical education, private or parochial schools, magnet schools, charter schools, online learning, and early-college high schools. We especially support the innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits. Empowering families to access the learning environments that will best help their children to realize their full potential is one of the greatest civil rights challenges of our time. A young person’s ability to succeed in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, ZIP code, or economic status. We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them.

In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending level. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. In Congress and in the states, Republicans are bridging the gap between those two realities. Congressional Republicans are leading the way forward with major reform legislation advancing the concept of block grants and repealing numerous federal regulations which have interfered with state and local control of public schools. Their Workplace Innovation and Opportunity Act — modernizing workforce programs, repealing mandates, and advancing employment for persons with disabilities — is now law. Their legislation to require transparency in unfunded mandates imposed upon our schools is advancing. Their D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. We deplore the efforts of Congressional Democrats and the current President to eliminate this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions.

To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society. We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with sexual risk avoidance education that sets abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. That approach — the only one always effective against premarital pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease — empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception and believe that federal funds should not be used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs. The federal government has pushed states to collect and share vast amounts of personal student and family data, including the collection of social and emotional data. Much of this data is collected without parental consent or notice. This is wholly incompatible with the American Experiment and our inalienable rights.

We urge state education officials to promote the hiring of qualified veterans as teachers in our public schools. Their proven abilities and life experiences will make them more successful instructors and role models for students than would any teaching certification.

Harvard Magazine published a noteworthy article about the failure of pay-for-performance plans in hospitals, written by Marina N. Bolotnikova. It is worth your time to read. It is devastating.

The logic of pay-for-performance systems is simple enough: pay doctors and hospitals based on how well their patients are doing, rather than on the number of medical services they provide. The payment structure was designed to fix a central problem in American healthcare. The United States spends far more per person on healthcare than any other country, yet has the poorest health outcomes in the advanced world. Pay-for-performance, also known as value-based purchasing, was meant to encourage doctors to optimize the welfare of patients while discouraging spending on unnecessary care.

There was never any evidence that pay-for-performance works, said Li professor of international health Ashish Jha, who investigates the effectiveness of economic incentives in the healthcare market. A recent paper published this April in the BMJ by Jha finds that the federal pay-for-performance program under Medicare, the Hospital Value-Based Purchasing (HVBP) program, hasn’t had any impact on mortality rates. Nor do HVBP-participating programs show any statistically significant advances over the small number of hospitals that don’t participate in the program. No hospitals, not even those with the worst mortality rates before the program was implemented, showed an improvement that could be attributed to pay-for-performance. “We looked across all different conditions and couldn’t find a single one where it seemed to have a meaningful effect,” Jha explained.

In the early 2000s, the Bush administration ran a pilot version of pay-for-performance at about 200 hospitals that agreed to tie their payments to certain quality measures. Even then, Jha said, “the broad consensus in the community was that it didn’t really work.” Despite this, the system was implemented on a national scale by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which created the HVBP program at more than 90 percent of U.S. hospitals. “There was a sense that we needed to begin somewhere,” he explained, “and that this program would be good to test out nationally.”

Medicine and education could learn from one another. Why has there been so little attention to the persistent failure of pay-for-performance plans in education? States and districts and the federal government pour hundreds of millions, billions, into developing incentives, despite the fact that the National Academy of Sciences studied the issue in education and said that such plans don’t work, especially when the bonuses are tied to test scores.

Whitney Tilson is one of the founders of Democrats for Education Reform. He is a hedge fund manager. He is on the board of KIPP. He helped to launch Teach for America. He is not a likely ally for me. But he is a very intelligent and forthright person. When he lambasted the for-profit virtual charter chain for the inferior education it provides, he sent me his comments, and I applauded him. More recently, we have exchanged emails about the abominable bathroom bill in North Carolina, which he opposes as I do. I have never met Whitney, but our emails have been very cordial, so I consider him a gentleman (no matter what he has written about me on his blog). He was gentleman enough to suggest that we exchange views, and he initiated the dialogue by sending me a list of statements that represent what he believes. I responded, closing out the conversation after midnight last night. It seems that Whitney never sleeps, as he posted the exchange immediately this morning. He has promised to write a response to my comments. When he does, I will post them too. I must say that I was very impressed by his willingness to state that charter schools should be expected to accept the full range of children, not just those who are likely to get high scores. That is a big step forward, and I hope that his views resonate. I also hope that this exchange is widely read. My only regret is that I neglected to thank him for initiating it. It was a bold step and I welcome the opportunity to identify the areas where are in agreement and the areas where he disagree.

 

 

 

This is the post that Whitney Tilson sent out this morning (his words are in italics, mine are in caps):

 

 

 

If someone forwarded you this email and you would like to be added to my email list to receive emails like this one roughly once a week, please email Leila at leilajt2+edreform@gmail.com. You can also email her if you’d like to unsubscribe. Lastly, in between emails I send out links to articles of interest via Twitter (I’m #arightdenied) so, to get them, you must sign up to follow me at: https://twitter.com/arightdenied.

 
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STOP THE PRESSES!!!

 

 

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations in my life – and this ongoing one with Diane Ravitch certainly ranks up there.

 

 

If I recall correctly, we first exchanged emails a few years ago when I send her my presentation about K12, the awful for-profit online charter school operator. I knew we’d have common ground there, as she’d also exposed K12’s misdeeds in her book, Reign of Error.

 

 

I reached out to her again recently because I knew we’d have common views on North Carolina’s hateful HB2 law (in fact, we’ve both now published articles in the Huffington Post on this; here’s mine: An Open Letter to a North Carolina State Legislator; and here’s hers: That Dumb Bathroom Bill in North Carolina).

 

 

Our common views got me thinking: how is it that two well-informed people can agree on so much in almost all areas, yet apparently disagree on so much in one area (ed reform)? Is it possible that we agree on more than we think?

 

 

So I sent her the email below, in which I wrote 24 statements about which I thought we might agree, and asked if she’d reply, in the hopes that we might both learn something, find more areas of agreement where we could work together, and, in general, try to tone things down.

 

 

She was kind enough to reply, so I have included her comments (in ALL CAPS), interspersed and at the end of my original email (shared with her permission of course).

 

 

Overall, I was heartened to see how many things we agree on.

 

 

That said, we still disagree on many things, about which I will respond in due time. But in the interests of keeping this email to a manageable length, I’ll let her have the last word here – but not the final word, as we’ve both committed to continuing (and sharing) our ongoing discussion.

 

 

In the meantime, I hope you’ll find our initial exchange as interesting and illuminating as I did.

 
——————————

 
Hi Diane,

 

 

You know, despite our disagreements on ed reform, I’d bet we agree on 95% of everything else. I’m certain that we agree that the Republican party has been hijacked by extremists, Trump is a madman, Cruz is terrifying, and there’s nothing more important than getting a Democrat elected president in November (and, ideally, retaking the Senate and maybe even the House as well).

 

WE AGREE.

 

I’ll admit that this creates quite a dilemma for me: I want the teachers unions, which remain the single most powerful interest group supporting the Democratic party, to be strong to help as many Democratic candidates as possible win. But when it comes to my desire to implement the reforms I think our educational system needs, I usually want them to be weak.

 

I DISAGREE.

 

I WANT THE TEACHERS’ UNIONS TO BE STRONG SO THEY CAN DEFEND THEIR MEMBERS AGAINST UNFAIR PRACTICES AND PROTECT THEIR ACADEMIC FREEDOM. TEACHERS HAVE BEEN BLAMED FOR THE ILLS OF SOCIETY, MOST ESPECIALLY, POVERTY. TODAY’S REFORMERS HAVE CREATED THE MYTH THAT GREAT TEACHERS–AS DEFINED BY THEIR STUDENTS’ TEST SCORES– CAN OVERCOME POVERTY AND CLOSE THE ACHIEVEMENT GAPS AMONG DIFFERENT GROUPS OF STUDENTS. I WISH IT WERE TRUE, BUT IT IS NOT. THE MYTH ENCOURAGES LAWMAKERS TO BELIEVE THAT WHEREVER POVERTY PERSISTS OR TEST SCORES ARE LOW OR ACHIEVEMENT GAPS REMAIN, IT MUST BE THE TEACHERS’ FAULT.

 

RACE TO THE TOP REQUIRED STATES TO EVALUATE TEACHERS TO A SIGNIFICANT DEGREE BY THEIR STUDENTS’ TEST SCORES, WHICH WAS A HUGE MISTAKE THAT HAS COST STATES AND DISTRICTS HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS BUT HASN’T WORKED ANYWHERE. THIS METHOD HAS PROVED UNSTABLE AND INACCURATE; IT REFLECTS WHO IS IN THE CLASS, NOT TEACHER QUALITY.

 

SCORES ON STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE HIGHLY CORRELATED WITH FAMILY INCOME, OVER WHICH TEACHERS HAVE NO CONTROL. IN THE PAST FEW YEARS, SOME STATES HAVE ELIMINATED COLLECTIVE BARGAINING, AND THERE IS NO CORRELATION BETWEEN THE EXISTENCE OF A UNION AND STUDENTS’ ACADEMIC SUCCESS. IN FACT, THE HIGHEST-PERFORMING STATES ON THE NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATION PROGRESS–MASSACHUSETTS, CONNECTICUT, AND NEW JERSEY–ARE MORE LIKELY TO HAVE UNIONS THAN THE LOWEST PERFORMING STATES, WHERE UNIONS ARE WEAK OR BANNED.

 

SOME STATES HAVE ENACTED MERIT PAY PROGRAMS, WHICH HAVE NEVER IMPROVED EDUCATION OR EVEN TEST SCORES DESPITE NUMEROUS EXPERIMENTS. THERE HAVE BEEN NUMEROUS ASSAULTS IN LEGISLATURES AND IN THE COURTS ON DUE PROCESS (CALLED “TENURE”) AND ON PAY INCREASES FOR ADDITIONAL EDUCATION AND EXPERIENCE. I HAVE OFTEN HEARD TEACHERS SAY THAT THEY BECAME TEACHERS KNOWING THEY WOULD NEVER BECOME RICH, BUT AT LEAST THEY WOULD HAVE A SECURE JOB. TAKE THAT AWAY AND TEACHERS SERVE AT THE WHIM OF ADMINISTRATORS WHO MAY OR MAY NOT BE SKILLED EDUCATORS. HOW WILL IT IMPROVE EDUCATION IF TEACHERS HAVE NO JOB SECURITY, LESS EDUCATION AND LESS EXPERIENCE?

 

SOMETIMES IT SEEMS LIKE THE BOYS IN THE BACKROOM ARE SPENDING THEIR TIME TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO CRUSH TEACHERS’ MORALE AND FREEZE THEIR PAY. THE CONSEQUENCES OF THESE ANTI-TEACHER PUBLIC POLICIES HAVE BEEN UGLY. TEACHERS ACROSS THE NATION FEEL THEMSELVES TO BE THE TARGETS OF A WITCH-HUNT. MANY TEACHERS HAVE TAKEN EARLY RETIREMENT, AND THE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE ENTERING TEACHING HAS PLUMMETED. EVEN TEACH FOR AMERICA HAS SEEN A 35% DECLINE IN THE NUMBER OF APPLICANTS IN JUST THE PAST THREE YEARS. THE ATTACKS ON TEACHERS HAVE TAKEN THEIR TOLL, AND THERE ARE NOW SHORTAGES ACROSS THE NATION.

 

I BELIEVE UNIONS ARE NECESSARY, NOT ONLY IN TEACHING, BUT IN OTHER LINES OF WORK AS WELL, TO PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF WORKING PEOPLE, TO MAKE SURE THEY ARE NOT EXPLOITED AND TO ASSURE THEY ARE TREATED FAIRLY. UNIONS ARE BY NO MEANS PERFECT AS THEY ARE; SOME ARE TOO BUREAUCRATIC AND SELF-SATISFIED, SOME ARE TOO COMPLACENT TO FIGHT FOR THEIR MEMBERS, SOME STIFLE ANY CHANGES. BUT, IN MY VIEW, UNIONS BUILT THE MIDDLE CLASS IN THIS COUNTRY. WE ARE LOSING OUR STRONG, STABLE MIDDLE CLASS AS THE PRIVATE AND PUBLIC SECTORS ELIMINATE UNIONS. INCOME INEQUALITY IS WIDENING AS UNIONS SHRIVEL. IN EDUCATION, UNIONS ARE ESPECIALLY IMPORTANT TO MAKE SURE THAT TEACHERS ARE FREE TO TEACH CONTROVERSIAL SUBJECTS, LIKE EVOLUTION, GLOBAL WARMING, AND CONTESTED BOOKS (YOU WOULD BE SURPRISED HOW MANY CLASSIC BOOKS, LIKE “HUCKLEBERRY FINN,” “INVISIBLE MAN,” AND “OF MICE AND MEN” ARE ON THE AMERICAN LIBRARY ASSOCIATION’S LIST OF THE 100 MOST FREQUENTLY BANNED BOOKS).

 

DO UNIONS PROTECT “BAD” TEACHERS? YES, THEY DO. ONE CAN’T KNOW WHO IS “BAD” IN THE ABSENCE OF DUE PROCESS. A TEACHER MAY BE FALSELY ACCUSED OR THE ADMINISTRATOR MAY HARBOR A DISLIKE FOR HER RACE, HER RELIGION, HER SEXUAL ORIENTATION, OR HER PEDAGOGICAL BELIEFS. THOSE WHO WISH TO FIRE THEM AFTER THEIR PROBATIONARY PERIOD (WHICH MAY BE AS LITTLE AS TWO YEARS OR AS MANY AS FIVE YEARS–AND IN MANY STATES, TEACHERS DO NOT HAVE DUE PROCESS OR TENURE) MUST PRESENT EVIDENCE THAT THEY ARE BAD TEACHERS OR THAT THEY DID SOMETHING THAT MERITS THEIR REMOVAL. PROBATIONARY TEACHERS HAVE NO RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS. TEACHERS HAVE SOMETIMES BEEN FALSELY ACCUSED. TEACHERS SHOULD BE ABLE TO CONFRONT THEIR ACCUSERS, TO SEE THE EVIDENCE, AND TO BE JUDGED BY AN INDEPENDENT ARBITRATOR. IF BAD TEACHERS GET TENURE, THEN BLAME BAD OR LAZY ADMINISTRATORS. THE RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS MUST BE EARNED BY PERFORMANCE IN THE CLASSROOM AND SHOULD NOT BE AWARDED WITHOUT CAREFUL DELIBERATION BY THE ADMINISTRATOR.

 

GIVEN THE FACT THAT A LARGE PERCENTAGE–AS MUCH AS 40%, EVEN MORE IN URBAN DISTRICTS–LEAVE TEACHING WITHIN THEIR FIRST FIVE YEARS, OUR BIGGEST PROBLEM IS RETAINING GOOD TEACHERS, NOT GETTING RID OF BAD ONES. BAD ONES SHOULD BE PROMPTLY REMOVED IN THEIR FIRST OR SECOND YEAR OF TEACHING. W. EDWARDS DEMING, WRITING ABOUT THE MODERN CORPORATION, SAID THAT A GOOD COMPANY HIRES CAREFULLY AND THEN HELPS ITS EMPLOYEES SUCCEED ON THE JOB. IT INVESTS IN SUPPORT AND TRAINING. IT MAKES A CONSCIENTIOUS EFFORT TO RETAIN THE PEOPLE IT HIRED. WHY DON’T WE DO THE SAME WITH TEACHERS AND STOP BLAMING THEM FOR CONDITIONS BEYOND THEIR CONTROL?

 

This dilemma isn’t new – in fact, it’s one of the reasons I helped start Democrats for Education Reform: because I wasn’t comfortable joining forces with other reform-oriented organizations that existed at the time (roughly a decade ago), which were mostly funded, supported and run by Republicans with whom I shared almost no views in common other than in the area of ed reform (and even in that area, I disagreed with their union busting and overemphasis on vouchers).

 

I SERVED AS ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF EDUCATION FOR RESEARCH IN THE ADMINISTRATION OF GEORGE H.W. BUSH, BUT REALIZED OVER TIME THAT I DID NOT AGREE WITH THE REPUBLICAN APPROACH TO EDUCATION, NAMELY, COMPETITION, SCHOOL CHOICE, TESTING, AND ACCOUNTABILITY. IT IS IRONIC THAT THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION ADOPTED THE SAME POLICIES AS THE REPUBLICANS, WITH THE SOLE EXCEPTION OF VOUCHERS. THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY USED TO HAVE A CORE SET OF EDUCATIONAL PRINCIPLES AT THE FEDERAL AND STATE LEVELS: EQUITY OF RESOURCES, EXTRA SUPPORT FOR THE NEEDIEST STUDENTS, LOW COLLEGE TUITION TO INCREASE ACCESS, VIGOROUS ENFORCEMENT OF CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS, AND SUPPORT FOR TEACHER PREPARATION. THAT APPROACH COMES CLOSEST TO PROVIDING EQUALITY OF EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY.

 

I OPPOSE THE REPUBLICAN APPROACH TO EDUCATION POLICY FOR THE FOLLOWING REASONS:

 

A) THEY DON’T SUPPORT PUBLIC EDUCATION AT ALL; EVERY ONE OF THEIR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES HAS ENDORSED SOME FORM OF PRIVATIZATION AND SAID NOTHING AT ALL ABOUT THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS THAT ENROLL 90% OF OUR STUDENTS.

 

B) THEY WOULD BE THRILLED TO ELIMINATE ALL UNIONS; THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT PEOPLE WHO ARE POOR OR STRUGGLING TO GET INTO THE MIDDLE CLASS OR TO STAY IN THE MIDDLE CLASS.

 

C) THE REPUBLICANS HAVE SWALLOWED THE FREE MARKET APPROACH TO SCHOOLING HOOK, LINE, AND SINKER, AS A MATTER OF IDEOLOGY, NOT EVIDENCE. I DON’T BELIEVE IN VOUCHERS, BECAUSE I KNOW THAT VOUCHERS HAVE NOT WORKED IN CHILE AND SWEDEN, AND THEY HAVE NOT WORKED IN THIS COUNTRY EITHER. MANY STATES HAVE ADOPTED VOUCHERS, THOUGH USUALLY CALLING THEM SOMETHING ELSE (EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNT, EDUCATION TAX CREDITS, OPPORTUNITY SCHOLARSHIPS, ETC.). MOST ARE USED TO SEND CHILDREN TO RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS, MANY OF WHICH HAVE UNCERTIFIED TEACHERS, INADEQUATE CURRICULA, AND NO ACCOUNTABILITY AT ALL. FURTHERMORE, THE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS RECEIVING VOUCHERS USUALLY TEACH CREATIONISM AND OTHER RELIGIOUS BELIEFS. I DON’T THINK PUBLIC MONEY SHOULD SUBSIDIZE RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS. VOUCHERS HAVE NEVER WON A PUBLIC REFERENDUM, BUT REPUBLICAN LEGISLATURES KEEP DEVISING WAYS TO GET AROUND THEIR OWN STATE CONSTITUTIONS.

 

The creation of DFER helped resolve this dilemma because I could fight against union policies when I felt they weren’t in the best interests of kids, without fighting against the principle of collective bargaining, which I believe in. And I could happily limit my political donations to supporting only Democrats (reform-oriented ones, of course, like Obama, Cory Booker and Michael Bennet).

 

WHAT OBAMA, CORY BOOKER, MICHAEL BENNETT AND OTHER CORPORATE-STYLE REFORMERS HAVE IN COMMON IS THAT THEY BELIEVE IN BREAKING UP PUBLIC EDUCATION AND REPLACING IT WITH PRIVATE MANAGEMENT. THEY BELIEVE IN CLOSING SCHOOLS WHERE TESTS SCORES ARE LOW. I DON’T. THE HIGHEST PERFORMING NATIONS IN THE WORLD HAVE STRONG, EQUITABLE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEMS WITH RESPECTED, WELL PREPARED, AND EXPERIENCED TEACHERS. THEY HAVE WRAP-AROUND SERVICES TO MAKE SURE THAT ALL CHILDREN COME TO SCHOOL HEALTHY AND READY TO LEARN. THEY DON’T TEST EVERY CHILD EVERY YEAR FROM GRADES 3-8 AS WE DO. THEY DON’T HAVE VOUCHERS OR PRIVATELY MANAGED CHARTERS.

 

So why am I feeling this dilemma again right now? Because the stakes are so high: our country is politically polarized, the Republican party is spiraling out of control, mostly likely nominating either a madman or extremist, and there’s an opportunity for we Democrats to not only win the presidency, but also take back Congress. The election in November will have an enormous impact on so many critical issues that hang in the balance: a majority in the Supreme Court, income inequality, healthcare, immigration, foreign policy/our relationships with the rest of the world, environmental issues/global warming, LGBT and women’s rights…the list goes on and on.

 

I CERTAINLY AGREE. THE REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS LOST ITS BEARINGS, AND ITS CANDIDATE IS LIKELY TO BE SOMEONE ABHORRED BY ITS LEADERSHIP.

 

As such, I’m going to be extra careful in my writings, when I’m critical of the unions, to make clear that these are policy differences and that I don’t support attempts to demolish unions altogether, whether in the education sector or elsewhere.

 

Writing about things I think we agree on outside of ed reform has gotten me thinking: what might we agree on within the area of ed reform?

As one of my mentors, Charlie Munger, always says: “Invert, always invert.”

So I have tried to compile a list of statements that I believe that I think you might agree with as well. I’m not trying to change your mind about anything or put words in your mouth – I’m genuinely trying to find areas of agreement, at least on general principles (the devil’s usually in the details of course, but a good starting point is agreeing at a high level):

 

• Every child in this country has the right to attend a safe school that provides a quality education.
WE AGREE.

 

• The color of a child’s skin and his/her zip code shouldn’t determine the quality of school he/she attends.
WE AGREE.

 

• Poor parents care deeply about ensuring that their children get a good education.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Sometimes the closest neighborhood school isn’t right for a child, so parents should have at least some options in choosing what public school is best for their children.

 
I PAUSE HERE, BECAUSE THIS IS MOVING INTO SCHOOL CHOICE TERRITORY, WHERE REPUBLICANS HAVE SOLD THE IDEA THAT PARENTS SHOULD CHOOSE THE SCHOOL AS A MATTER OF CONSUMER CHOICE (JEB BUSH COMPARED CHOOSING A SCHOOL TO CHOOSING WHAT KIND OF MILK YOU WANT TO DRINK–FAT-FREE, 1%, 2%, WHOLE MILK, CHOCOLATE MILK, OR BUTTERMILK). UNFORTUNATELY, MANY CHOICE IDEOLOGUES TAKE THIS ARGUMENT TO ITS LOGICAL CONCLUSION AND PURSUE AN ALL-CHOICE POLICY, IN WHICH THE ONE CHOICE THAT IS NO LONGER AVAILABLE IS THE NEIGHBORHOOD SCHOOL. THAT IS THE CASE IN NEW ORLEANS. IT OFTEN SEEMS THAT REFORMERS–LIKE REPUBLICANS–CONSIDER PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO BE OBSOLETE AND WANT TO REPLACE THEM WITH AN ALL-PRIVATIZED DISTRICT.

 

• It is not the case that too many children are failing too many of our schools; rather, the reverse is true.

 
I DON’T AGREE. I WOULD SAY OUR SOCIETY IS FAILING OUR CHILDREN AND THEIR FAMILIES BY ALLOWING SO MANY OF THEM TO LIVE IN POVERTY. WE HAVE THE HIGHEST PROPORTION OF CHILDREN LIVING IN POVERTY OF THE WORLD’S ADVANCED NATIONS–ABOUT 22%. THAT IS SHAMEFUL, THE SCHOOLS DIDN’T CAUSE IT. AS I SAID BEFORE, FAMILY INCOME IS THE BEST PREDICTOR OF STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES; THAT IS TRUE OF EVERY STANDARDIZED TEST, WHETHER IT IS THE SAT, THE ACT, THE STATE TESTS, NATIONAL TESTS OR INTERNATIONAL TESTS. IF POVERTY IS DIRECTLY RELATED TO LOW ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE, THEN TARGET POVERTY AND PURSUE PUBLIC POLICIES THAT WILL IMPROVE THE LIVES OF CHILDREN, FAMILIES AND COMMUNITIES. AT THE SAME TIME, WORK TO IMPROVE SCHOOLS, NOT TO CLOSE THEM. THERE IS NOW A CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF RESEARCH SHOWING THAT STATE TAKEOVERS SELDOM IMPROVE SCHOOLS; THAT CHARTERS PERFORM ON AVERAGE ABOUT THE SAME AS PUBLIC SCHOOLS; THAT VOUCHER SCHOOLS ON AVERAGE PERFORM WORSE THAN PUBLIC SCHOOLS; THAT THE CHARTERS THAT GET THE HIGHEST TEST SCORES EXCLUDE OR REMOVE STUDENTS WITH DISABILITIES, STUDENTS WHO DON’T READ ENGLISH, AND STUDENTS WHO GET LOW TEST SCORES.

 

• Poverty and its effects have an enormous impact, in countless ways, on a child’s ability to learn.

 
WE AGREE. THE CHILD WHO IS HOMELESS, WHO LACKS MEDICAL CARE, WHO IS HUNGRY IS LIKELY NOT TO FOCUS ON HIS OR HER STUDIES AND IS LIKELY TO BE FREQUENTLY ABSENT BECAUSE OF ILLNESS OR CARING FOR A SIBLING. IT REALLY HURTS CHILDREN WHEN THE BASIC NECESSITIES OF LIFE ARE MISSING.

 

• If one had to choose between fixing all schools or fixing everything else outside of schools that affects the ability of children to learn (poverty, homelessness, violence, broken families, lack of healthcare, whether parents regularly speak and read to children, etc.), one would choose the latter in a heartbeat.

 
I CERTAINLY AGREE BECAUSE REDUCING POVERTY AND ITS ILL EFFECTS WOULD IMPROVE SCHOOLS AT THE SAME TIME.

 

• Schools should be rigorous, with high expectations, but also filled with joy and educators who instill a love of learning.

 
I MIGHT HAVE AGREED WITH YOU IN YEARS PAST, BUT I HAVE COME TO SEE “RIGOR” AS A LOADED WORD. IT REMINDS ME OF “RIGOR MORTIS.” I PREFER TO SAY THAT TEACHERS SHOULD TEACH ACADEMIC STUDIES WITH JOY AND ENTHUSIASM, AWAKENING STUDENTS TO THE LOVE OF LEARNING AND INSPIRING INTRINSIC MOTIVATION.

 

• Some testing is necessary but too much testing is harmful.

 
I AGREE THAT SOME TESTING IS NECESSARY. I BELIEVE BASED ON MANY YEARS OF STUDY OF STANDARDIZED TESTING THAT MOST TESTING SHOULD BE DESIGNED BY THE CLASSROOM TEACHERS, NOT BY OUTSIDE TESTING CORPORATIONS. I WOULD PREFER TO SEE MORE TIME DEVOTED TO ESSAYS, PROJECTS, AND ANY OTHER KIND OF DEMONSTRATION OF WHAT CHILDREN HAVE LEARNED OR WHAT THEY DREAM AND IMAGINE AND CREATE. STANDARDIZED TESTING SHOULD BE USED ONLY DIAGNOSTICALLY, NOT MORE THAN ONCE A YEAR, AND IT SHOULD NOT FIGURE INTO THE STUDENTS’ GRADE OR THE TEACHERS’ EVALUATION. I SAY THIS BECAUSE STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE NORMED ON A BELL CURVE; THE AFFLUENT STUDENTS CLUSTER AT THE TOP, AND THE LOW-INCOME STUDENTS CLUSTER AT THE BOTTOM. IN SHORT, THE DECK IS STACKED AGAINST THE KIDS IN THE BOTTOM HALF, BECAUSE THE TESTS BY THEIR NATURE WILL ALWAYS HAVE A BOTTOM HALF. WHY NOT HAVE TASKS THAT ALMOST EVERYONE CAN DO WELL IF THEY TRY? GIVE CHILDREN A CHANCE TO SHOW WHAT THEY CAN DO AND LET THEIR IMAGINATIONS SOAR, RATHER THAN RELYING ON THEIR CHOICE OF ONE OF FOUR PRE-DETERMINED ANSWERS.

 

I AGREE THAT TOO MUCH TESTING IS HARMFUL, AND IT IS ALSO HARMFUL TO ATTACH HIGH STAKES (LIKE PROMOTION, GRADUATION, OR TEACHER EVALUATION) TO A STANDARDIZED TEST BECAUSE IT MAKES THE TEST TOO IMPORTANT. STANDARDIZED TESTS ARE NOT SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS; THEY ARE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONS. THEY FAVOR THOSE WHO COME TO SCHOOL WITH ADVANTAGES (EDUCATED PARENTS, SECURE HOMES, BOOKS IN THE HOME, ETC.) WHEN THE TESTS ARE HIGH STAKES, THE RESULTS ARE PREDICTABLE: TEACHING TO THE TEST, NARROWING THE CURRICULUM, CHEATING. WHEN SCHOOLS AND TEACHERS WILL BE PUNISHED OR REWARDED FOR TEST SCORES, THE MEASURE ITSELF IS CORRUPTED (CAMPBELL’S LAW). IT NO LONGER MEASURES WHAT STUDENTS KNOW AND CAN DO, BUT HOW MUCH EFFORT WAS SPENT PREPARING FOR THE TEST. TEACHERS ENGAGE FOR WEEKS OR MONTHS IN TEST PREPARATION, SCHOOLS CUT BACK OR ELIMINATE THE ARTS, PHYSICAL EDUCATION, HISTORY, SCIENCE, AND WHATEVER IS NOT TESTED. TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS, SCHOOLS, EVEN DISTRICTS WILL CHEAT TO ASSURE THAT THEIR SCORES GO UP, NOT DOWN, TO AVOID FIRINGS AND CLOSURES AND INSTEAD TO WIN BONUSES.

 

ALL OF THIS CORRUPTS EDUCATION, AND IN THE END, THE SCORES STILL ARE A REFLECTION OF FAMILY INCOME AND OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN. AND CHILDREN HAVE A WORSE EDUCATION EVEN IF THEIR SCORES RISE BECAUSE OF THE ABSENCE OF THE ARTS AND OTHER IMPORTANT PARTS OF A SOUND EDUCATION.

 

• Tests should be thoughtful and cover genuine knowledge, not easily game-able, which too often leads to excessing teaching-to-the-test.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Expanding high-quality pre-K, especially for poor kids, is important.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Teachers should be celebrated, not demonized.

 
YES, ABSOLUTELY. TEACHERS HAVE ONE OF THE HARDEST, MOST CHALLENGING JOBS IN OUR SOCIETY AND THEY ARE UNDERPAID AND UNDER-RESPECTED. WHEN I WAS IN NORTH CAROLINA LAST WEEK, I WAS TOLD BY AN EDITORIAL WRITER THAT THE ENTRY PAY IS “GOOD,” AT $35,000, BUT THE TOP SALARY IS ONLY $50,000. TEACHERS SHOULD BE TREATED AS PROFESSIONALS AND EARN A PROFESSIONAL SALARY THAT ENABLES THEM TO LIVE WELL AND SEND THEIR CHILDREN TO COLLEGE.

 

• They should be paid more, both on a relative and absolute basis.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• Some teachers are phenomenal, most are good, some are mediocre, and some are truly terrible.

 
THIS SPREAD IS PROBABLY THE SAME IN EVERY OTHER PROFESSION. THOSE WHO ARE “TRULY TERRIBLE” SHOULD BE REMOVED BEFORE THEY ACHIEVE TENURE; MOST, I SUSPECT, LEAVE EARLY IN THEIR CAREER BECAUSE THEY CAN’T CONTROL THEIR CLASSES. WE ACTUALLY HAVE MANY MORE SUCCESSFUL TEACHERS THAN MOST PEOPLE BELIEVE; AS STATES HAVE REPORTED ON THEIR NEW EVALUATION SYSTEMS, MORE THAN 95% OF TEACHERS HAVE BEEN RATED EITHER “HIGHLY EFFECTIVE” OR “EFFECTIVE.” VERY FEW FELL BELOW THOSE MARKERS. FRANKLY, TEACHING THESE DAYS IS SO DIFFICULT THAT IT TAKES A VERY STRONG PERSON TO HANDLE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF THE CLASSROOM.

 

• All teachers should be evaluated regularly, comprehensively and fairly, with the primary goal of helping them improve their craft.

 
I AGREE, ALTHOUGH I THINK THAT TEACHERS WHO RECEIVE HIGH RATINGS FROM THEIR ADMINISTRATORS AND PEERS SHOULD NOT BE REGULARLY EVALUATED. THAT IS A WASTE OF TIME THAT SHOULD BE DEVOTED TO THOSE WHO NEED HELP IN IMPROVING. THE TOP TEACHERS SHOULD BE OFFERED EXTRA PAY TO MENTOR NEW TEACHERS.

 

• The best teachers should be rewarded while struggling ones should be given help so they can improve.

 
I DON’T BELIEVE IN PERFORMANCE BONUSES. THE RESEARCH SHOWS THEM TO BE INEFFECTIVE. I AGREE THAT THOSE WHO STRUGGLE SHOULD RECEIVE HELP SO THEY CAN IMPROVE.

 

• If a teacher doesn’t improve, there needs to be a timely and fair system to get them out of the profession.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• There should be a timely process to handle disciplinary charges against teachers so that there is no need for things like rubber rooms, which are a costly and dehumanizing embarrassment.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• In fighting for the interests of teachers, unions are doing exactly what they’re supposed to – and have done it well.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• The decline of unionization (which has occurred mostly in the private sector), has been a calamity for this country and is a major contributor to soaring income inequality, which is also a grave concern.

 
WE AGREE.

 

• What Gov. Scott Walker did in Wisconsin as well as the Friedrichs case were wrong-headed attempts to gut union power, and it was wonderful that the Supreme Court left existing laws in place via its 4-4 tie in the Friedrichs case last week.
AGREED. I WOULD SAY THE SAME ABOUT THE OVERTURNING OF THE VERGARA CASE IN CALIFORNIA, WHICH THREW OUT A LOWER COURT DECISION INTENDED TO ELIMINATE DUE PROCESS FOR TEACHERS.

 

• Charter schools, like regular public schools, should: a) take their fair share of the most challenging students; b) backfill at every grade level; and c) follow comparable suspension and expulsion policies.

 
I AGREE TO AN EXTENT. IN THE PRESENT SITUATION, WHERE CHARTERS COMPETE WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS FOR STUDENTS AND RESOURCES, I THINK THESE ARE FAIR REQUIREMENTS THAT ENSURE A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD. HOWEVER, IF WE WERE TO TAKE YOUR GOOD SUGGESTIONS, WE WOULD HAVE TWO PUBLICLY-FUNDED SCHOOL SYSTEMS, ONE MANAGED BY PUBLIC OFFICIALS, THE OTHER BY PRIVATE ENTREPRENEURS. I SEE NO REASON TO HAVE A DUAL SCHOOL SYSTEM–ONE HIGHLY REGULATED, AND THE OTHER UNREGULATED, OR AS YOU PROPOSE HERE, REGULATED TO A GREATER EXTENT THAN AT PRESENT. IF CHARTERS DO CONTINUE AS THEY NOW ARE, YOUR PROPOSAL WOULD MAKE THEM FAIRER AND LESS PREDATORY. IN THEIR CURRENT STATE, THEY ARE BANKRUPTING SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND SKIMMING OFF THE EASIEST TO EDUCATE STUDENTS, AND THAT’S NOT FAIR.

 

I WOULD LIKE TO SEE CHARTER SCHOOLS RETURN TO THE ORIGINAL IDEA PROPOSED IN 1988 BY ALBERT SHANKER AND A PROFESSOR IN MASSACHUSETTS NAMED RAY BUDDE. CHARTER SCHOOLS WERE SUPPOSED TO BE COLLABORATORS WITH PUBLIC SCHOOLS, NOT COMPETITORS. THEIR TEACHERS WOULD BELONG TO THE SAME UNION AS PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHERS. THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE FREEDOM TO INNOVATE AND EXPECTED TO SHARE THEIR INNOVATIONS WITH THE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. AT THE END OF THEIR CHARTER–SAY, FIVE YEARS OR TEN YEARS–THEY WOULD CEASE TO EXIST AND RETURN TO THE PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT. SHANKER THOUGHT THAT CHARTER SCHOOLS SHOULD EXIST FIND INNOVATIVE WAYS TO HELP THE KIDS WHO WERE NOT MAKING IT IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS, THOSE WHO HAD DROPPED OUT, THOSE WHO WERE UNMOTIVATED, THOSE WHO WERE TURNED OFF BY TRADITIONAL SCHOOLS. I SUPPORT THAT IDEA. WE HAVE STRAYED VERY FAR FROM THE ORIGINAL IDEA AND ARE MOVING TOWARDS A DUAL SCHOOL SYSTEM, ONE FREE TO CHOOSE ITS STUDENTS, THE OTHER REQUIRED TO ACCEPT ALL WHO SHOW UP AT THEIR DOORS.

 

• For-profit online charters like K12 are providing an inferior education to far too many students and thus need to be much more carefully regulated and, in many cases, simply shut down.

 
FOR-PROFIT ONLINE CHARTER SCHOOLS ARE A SCAM AND A FRAUD. THEY SHOULD BE PROHIBITED. I APPLAUDED YOUR FRANK DISSECTION OF K12 INC, WHICH SURPRISED ME BECAUSE VIRTUAL SCHOOLS GRAB ON TO THE COAT-TAILS OF THE REFORM MOVEMENT. FOR ANOTHER GREAT EXPOSE OF THE K12 VIRTUAL CHARTER CHAIN, READ JESSICA CALIFATI’S OUTSTANDING SERIES IN THE SAN JOSE MERCURY-NEWS, WHICH WAS PUBLISHED JUST DAYS AGO:

 

http://www.mercurynews.com/education/ci_29780959/k12-inc-california-virtual-academies-operator-exploits-charter

 

STUDENTS WHO ENROLL IN THESE SCHOOLS HAVE LOWER SCORES, LOWER GRADUATION RATES, AND LEARN LITTLE. A STUDY BY STANFORD UNIVERSITY’S CREDO EARLIER THIS YEAR SAID THAT THEY LEARN ESSENTIALLY NOTHING. WHY SHOULD TAXPAYERS FOOT THE BILL?

 

IN ADDITION, I WOULD LIKE TO SEE FOR-PROFIT CHARTER SCHOOLS PROHIBITED. THE PUBLIC PAYS TAXES FOR SCHOOLING AND BELIEVES THAT THE MONEY WILL BE SPENT ON EDUCATION, NOT ON PAYING A PROFIT TO INVESTORS IN A CORPORATION. THE PURPOSE OF A FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION IS TO MAKE A PROFIT; THE PURPOSE OF A PUBLIC SCHOOL IS TO PREPARE YOUNG CHILDREN TO LIVE A FULL AND SATISFYING LIFE AS CITIZENS AND MEMBERS OF THE COMMUNITY. THERE SHOULD NEVER COME A TIME WHEN SCHOOL LEADERS CHOOSE THE NEED TO SHOW A PROFIT OVER THE NEEDS OF STUDENTS. I WOULD ALSO STOP SPENDING PUBLIC MONEY ON FOR-PROFIT “COLLEGES.” THEY HAVE BEEN CHASTISED IN CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS TIME AND AGAIN FOR THEIR PREDATORY PRACTICES, BUT THEY ALWAYS MANAGE TO SURVIVE, THANKS TO SKILLFUL, BIPARTISAN LOBBYING. I RECOMMEND A NEW BOOK BY A.J. ANGULO, TITLED “DIPLOMA MILL$: HOW FOR-PROFIT COLLEGES STIFFED STUDENTS, TAXPAYERS, AND THE AMERICAN DREAM” (JOHNS HOPKINS PRESS).

 

• Voter IDs laws are a despicable and thinly disguised attempt by Republicans to suppress the turnout of poor and minority voters, which in turn hurts schools serving their children.

 
WE AGREE.

 

So what do you think? Do you disagree with any of these statements? What have I missed? What do you believe that you think I would agree with? I think it would be productive and interesting to come up with a long of a list as possible.

 

Best regards,

 

 

Whitney
———————–

 

DEAR WHITNEY,

 
HERE ARE A FEW OF MY BELIEFS THAT YOU MAY OR MAY NOT SHARE.

 

*I BELIEVE IN SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. PUBLIC MONEY SHOULD NOT BE SPENT FOR RELIGIOUS SCHOOL TUITION. PEOPLE SHOULD NOT BE ASKED TO SUBSIDIZE THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OF OTHERS. ONCE WE START ON THAT SLIPPERY SLOPE, TAXPAYERS WILL BE UNDERWRITING SCHOOLS THAT TEACH CREATIONISM, WHITE SUPREMACY, FEMALE SUBJUGATION, AND OTHER IDEAS THAT VIOLATE BOTH SCIENCE AND OUR DEMOCRATIC IDEALS.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT EVERY CHILD, REGARDLESS OF ZIP CODE OR FAMILY INCOME, RACE, GENDER, DISABILITY STATUS, LANGUAGE PROFICIENCY, OR SEXUAL ORIENTATION, SHOULD BE ABLE TO ENROLL IN AN EXCELLENT SCHOOL.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT AN EXCELLENT SCHOOL HAS SMALL CLASSES, EXPERIENCED TEACHERS, A FULL CURRICULUM, A WELL-RESOURCED PROGRAM IN THE ARTS, SCIENCE LABORATORIES, AND A GYMNASIUM, SITUATED IN A WELL-MAINTAINED AND ATTRACTIVE BUILDING. STUDENTS SHOULD HAVE THE OPPORTUNITY TO STUDY HISTORY, LITERATURE, THE SCIENCES, MATHEMATICS, CIVICS, GEOGRAPHY, TECHNOLOGY, AND HAVE AMPLE TIME FOR PHYSICAL ACTIVITIES, SPORTS, AND EXERCISE. THE SCHOOL SHOULD HAVE A WELL-STOCKED LIBRARY WITH A FULL-TIME LIBRARIAN. IT SHOULD HAVE A SCHOOL NURSE, A SOCIAL WORKER, AND A PSYCHOLOGIST. THE PRINCIPAL SHOULD BE AN EXPERIENCED TEACHER, WITH THE AUTHORITY TO HIRE TEACHERS AND TO EVALUATE THEIR PERFORMANCE. TEACHER EVALUATION SHOULD BE BASED ON PEER REVIEW AND CLASSROOM PERFORMANCE, NOT ON TEST SCORES.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT THE PRIMARY PURPOSE OF PUBLIC SCHOOLS, BASED ON MY STUDIES AS A HISTORIAN OF EDUCATION, IS TO DEVELOP GOOD CITIZENS. THE MOST IMPORTANT JOB THAT CITIZENS HAVE IN OUR DEMOCRACY IS TO VOTE THOUGHTFULLY AND TO BE PREPARED TO SIT ON JURIES AND REACH WISE DECISIONS ABOUT THE FATE OF OTHERS. CITIZENS MUST BE WELL INFORMED AND KNOWLEDGEABLE. THEY SHOULD KNOW HOW TO COLLABORATE WITH OTHERS TO ACCOMPLISH GOALS. THEY SHOULD CARE ABOUT THE FAIRNESS AND FUTURE OF OUR DEMOCRACY. THEY SHOULD BE KNOWLEDGABLE ABOUT AMERICAN AND WORLD HISTORY. THEY SHOULD UNDERSTAND THE BASIC PRINCIPLES OF GOVERNMENT, ECONOMICS, AND SCIENCE SO THEY CAN UNDERSTAND THE GREAT ISSUES OF THE DAY.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT PUBLIC EDUCATION IS ONE OF THE BASIC BUILDING BLOCKS OF OUR DEMOCRACY. AS CITIZENS, WE HAVE AN OBLIGATION TO SUPPORT A GOOD PUBLIC EDUCATION FOR ALL CHILDREN, EVEN IF WE HAVE NO CHILDREN OR IF OUR OWN CHILDREN ARE GROWN OR IF WE SEND OUR CHILDREN TO RELIGIOUS OR PRIVATE SCHOOLS.

 

*BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN THE IMPORTANCE OF PUBLIC EDUCATION, I OPPOSE ALL EFFORTS TO PRIVATIZE PUBLIC SCHOOLS OR TO MONETIZE THEM.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT THE PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY FOR SHAPING EDUCATION POLICY SHOULD BE IN THE HANDS OF EDUCATORS, NOT POLITICIANS. EDUCATORS ARE THE EXPERTS, AND WE SHOULD LET THEM DO THEIR JOBS WITHOUT POLITICAL INTERFERENCE.

 

*I BELIEVE THAT TEACHERS SHOULD NOT ONLY BE RESPECTED, BUT SHOULD BE PAID MORE FOR THEIR EXPERIENCE AND EDUCATION. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT EDUCATION WILL GET BETTER IF TEACHERS HAVE LESS EXPERIENCE AND LESS EDUCATION.

 

*I BELIEVE IN SCHOOL CHOICE, BUT I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT PRIVATE CHOICES SHOULD BE PUBLICLY SUBSIDIZED. ANYONE WHO WANTS THEIR CHILD TO HAVE A RELIGIOUS EDUCATION SHOULD PAY FOR IT. THE SAME FOR THOSE WHO WANT THEIR CHILDREN TO ATTEND A PRIVATE SCHOOL OR TO BE HOME-SCHOOLED. PARENTS HAVE A RIGHT TO MAKE CHOICES, BUT THEY SHOULD NOT EXPECT THE PUBLIC TO PAY FOR THEIR CHOICES.

 

*I WOULD LIKE TO SEE TODAY’S REFORMERS FIGHT AGAINST BUDGET CUTS TO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, AGAINST SEGREGATION, AND AGAINST THE OVERUSE AND MISUSE OF STANDARDIZED TESTS. I WISH WE MIGHT JOIN TOGETHER TO LEAD THE FIGHT TO IMPROVE THE LIVING STANDARDS FOR CHILDREN AND FAMILIES NOW LIVING IN POVERTY. I WISH WE MIGHT ADVOCATE TOGETHER FOR HIGHER SALARIES FOR TEACHERS, SMALLER CLASSES FOR STUDENTS, EFFECTIVE SOCIAL AND MEDICAL SERVICES FOR CHILDREN WHO NEED THEM, AND EXCELLENT PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN EVERY NEIGHBORHOOD.

 

*I WOULD LIKE TO SEE ALL OF US WHO CARE ABOUT CHILDREN, WHO RESPECT TEACHERS AND WANT A GREAT EDUCATION FOR EVERY CHILD, JOIN TOGETHER TO PERSUADE THE PUBLIC TO INVEST MORE IN EDUCATION AND TO CONSIDER EDUCATION THE MOST IMPORTANT ENDEAVOR OF OUR SOCIETY, THE ONE THAT WILL DETERMINE THE FUTURE OF OUR SOCIETY. LET US RECOGNIZE TOGETHER THAT POVERTY MATTERS, TEACHERS MATTER, SCHOOLS MATTER, AND THAT WE MUST STRIVE TOGETHER TO REACH THE GOALS UPON WHICH WE AGREE.

 

THANK YOU FOR INITIATING THIS DIALOGUE. I LOOK FORWARD TO CONTINUING IT.

 

DIANE RAVITCH

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andy Goldstein, a superstar teacher in Palm Beach County, Florida, recently addressed the school board and urged them not to impose a merit pay plan mandated by the legislature. The Florida legislature is dedicated to the belief that schools should be run like a business and should focus on competition, incentives, and punishments. It never passes up a chance to pass laws that foster bad practices and that promote privatization.

 

In the most careful study of merit pay, researchers at Vanderbilt University recorded the results of a three-year experiment in which one group of fifth-grade teachers was offered a bonus of $15,000 to raise test scores while the other group was offered nothing. The bonus had no effect. (See here and here.)

 

 

Here is Andy Goldstein’s statement to the  PBC board:

 

 

 

From Palm Beach County, FL:

 

The Failure of Merit Pay – why it will fail our students most in need – a school board talk by Andy Goldstein. April 20, 2016.

 

Transcript:

 

Good evening. My name is Andy Goldstein. I’m a teacher at Omni Middle School and the proud parent of an 8-year-old daughter who attends second grade at one of our public elementary schools.

 

I wish to talk about the proposed salary agreement for teachers.

 

This proposed salary agreement, if approved by our teachers, will be the first year that so-called merit pay will be put into effect in Palm Beach County as mandated by Senate Bill 736.

 

It divides those teachers who will earn a raise into categories of “effective” and “highly effective.” The highly effective category pays teachers 25 percent more.

 

I’m looking at this merit pay plan through the lense of our District’s 5-Year Strategic Plan, which our School Board approved.

 

Our District’s Mission Statement states that:

 

The School District of Palm Beach County is committed to providing a world-class education with excellence and equity to empower each student to reach his or her highest potential with the most effective staff to foster the knowledge, skills, and ethics required for responsible citizenship and productive careers.

 

Beautiful!

 

This proposed pay plan actively works against this mission, and vital elements of our Strategic Plan in the following ways.

 

• Instead of promoting a high performance culture in which teachers are respected and allowed to collaborate to help our students, it promotes divisiveness, bitterness and competition between teachers. Merit pay historically has not been supported by teachers because the pay has been based on subjective and arbitrary systems of evaluation, and teachers know there is no fair way for it to be done.

 

• If merit pay is a good idea, then why is it a highly kept secret in each school which teachers are found to be highly effective? Don’t we want to share best practices?

 

• It promotes those teachers who have a certain set of students that respond to a certain growth pattern needed for a narrow set of test scores – called VAM—the Value Added Model of teacher evaluation.

 

• In our District’s 90-Day Entry Plan findings, you ask the big questions: Is it good for children? Is it research based?

 

• Merit pay is not good for children. It punishes those teachers working with the most challenging populations, the very populations you state you most want to lift up.

 

• Merit pay based on test scores is not research based. In fact, research shows the opposite. It shows no affect in student outcomes because basically, the teachers studied were doing the best they knew how, no matter what population of students they were teaching. The American Statistical Association cautions that VAM scores, while they may be useful in noting large trends in big systems, are not effective when they are used in high-stakes decision making related to individuals.

 

• Our District’s strategic plan cites the need for a high performance culture. Yet merit pay goes against this. It’s an extrinsic form of reward, making use of carrots and sticks, as if our teachers were pet monkeys. W. Edwards Deming, the management consultant who turned Japanese auto makers into world class manufacturers, said that the intrinsic motivation –the love of the work itself—is what motivates people to do a good job. He said it’s important to pay people well, develop their capacities for excellence and let them do their job.

 

• Merit pay works against this. It will make the District actively work against having all teachers be highly effective, since our School District is not going to want to pay the top salary for all its employees. We already see this at work in Florida’s Lake County School District.

 

As education historian Diane Ravitch states: Merit pay has over 100 years of research and has never been found to be effective.

 

As teachers, we have been branded with a Scarlet Letter, called VAM, a projection of the collective sins of our society for our grotesque inequity.

 

I will not, as a teacher, vote to approve merit pay, which will widen this inequity for our most underserved students most in need, and I ask the District to fix this botched idea and work at having it reversed by our state legislature.

 

Thank you.

 

 

Allene Magill, writing on behalf of the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, explains why teachers don’t want “merit pay” based on test scores. They have no objection to extra pay for extra work or other kind of performance, but tying their compensation to test scores is offensive to them.

 

“The most rewarding aspect of teaching occurs when a former student lets an educator know the difference he or she made in their life. After more than 40 years as an educator, I’ve experienced that many times. I assure you that not once has a former student told me how much he appreciated my contribution to his score on a standardized test. Students have, however, talked about the importance of their relationship with me as their teacher — the encouragement to work hard, the extra attention to help them grasp a concept, a kind word when life got tough, extra responsibilities that built confidence and leadership experience, and making time for the arts and non “core” subjects.

 
“We’ve committed a disservice to all students and educators over the past 20 years by focusing on performance on standardized tests and reducing opportunities for building great student relationships. Initially, standardized tests were reserved for core content every few years, and teachers could maintain enough flexibility to nurture and support students. Now teacher evaluations are tied to all content. No subject can be studied without the student taking an assessment that stamps her effort with a score while also passing judgment on her teacher.”

 

Pay for test scores is demeaning to teachers. Yet Governor Nathan Deal and his Education Reform Commission insist that every school district develop a plan to do it.

 

 

Please, someone tell Governor Deal that merit pay has been tried for a century and has never worked. Teachers need to collaborate, not complete.

 

 

 

Troy LaRaviere won the Mayor’s merit award for principals in Chicago, for the third year in a row. This is funny, because LaRaviere has been Rahm Emanuel’s most outspoken critic. Troy spoke out against the privatization of janitorial services; he compiled the data to show that public schools outperform charter schools; he endorsed Chuy Garcia, Rahm’s opponent. He urged the parents at his school, Blaine Elementary, to opt out of the state tests. He is fearless and outspoken. But he is also the best principal in the city.

 

Ben Joravsky writes:

 

Despite LaRaviere’s record of opposition to the mayor’s school policies, this principal has won three $10,000 merit pay awards (totaling $30,000) for school years 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2013-14. He may have won one for last year—CPS hasn’t announced them yet.

 

That’s means he’s received more money in merit pay than any other principal in the city—including those from the mayor’s much-adored charter schools.

 

When I saw Rahm had given Troy so much love, I thought I owed the mayor an apology.

 

I’d always viewed him as one of those vengeful, cutthroat types. And here it turns out he’s a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. Next think you know he’s going to give me the keys to the city.

 

Then I called LaRaviere. And it turns out Mayor Emanuel had nothing to do with giving out that merit pay.

 

Well, OK, yes, it’s true that the idea of giving merit pay to principals is something that Mayor Emanuel came up with back in 2011.

 

And yes it was Mayor Emanuel who raised the $5 million for the awards by passing the hat among some of his closest political allies, including Penny Pritzker, who donated $1 million, and Bruce Rauner, who donated $2 million.

 

 

Joravsky concludes that other principals who have kept quiet should step up and speak their minds. If Troy LaRaviere could win a merit award of $10,000, three years in a row, there is no excuse for anyone to bite their tongue.

Three years after the Newark Teachers Union agreed to a merit pay plan funded by Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, the union is now resisting renewal of the plan. The new president of the union says it didn’t work. This should not be a surprise. Merit pay has been tried and failed consistently for nearly 100 years. (See the chapter on merit pay in my 2013 book, Reign of Error.) Merit pay failed in Nashville in 2010; it failed in New York City, in Chicago, in Texas, and elsewhere in the past five years. Corporate reformers never admit failure, so they can’t stop trying to revive merit pay, despite the fact that there is neither research nor evidence to support it.

It was hailed as a breakthrough when the bargain was struck: Top-performing teachers in Newark could get bigger paychecks.

The provision in a 2012 contract struck between the state-run school district and the Newark Teachers Union was the first of its kind in New Jersey, and it was made possible because of a massive donation intended to improve education in the city.

But three years later, the contract has expired, and the new president of the local union says that it hasn’t worked and that it’s not a sure thing the teachers union will agree to keep the provision in its current form. Several Newark teachers said that they had real problems with the contract and that the merit pay hasn’t worked, though none were willing to speak on the record for fear of reprisals.

Talks for a deal to replace it haven’t started, and the contract with the merit pay remains in place.

The deal was made possible because of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to education causes in Newark, announced five years ago. His foundation agreed to pay not only for the cost of the merit bonuses, but also for retroactive raises for educators who had worked two years on a previous contract, going without raises for that duration. The total cost to Zuckerberg for the deal was more than $48 million, or nearly half his contribution. While $30 million of the money contributed by Zuckerberg and matching donors is left, it’s not clear whether it will help pay for a new contract.

For advocates for education reform, it was a big deal. Gov. Chris Christie helped hash out the contract.

Those reformers say that teachers should be paid like many people in other industries are, with paychecks reflecting their results rather than just their experience.

Count on corporate reformers to ignore evidence and to keep doing the same thing over and over again, no matter how many times it fails.

Hillsborough County in Florida was one of the major beneficiaries of the Gates Foundation’s fetish for teacher evaluation and bonus pay. Gates pledged “up to” $100 million, but is refusing to pay the last $20 million because there has been so little evidence of the link between bonuses and test scores. Duh. If the Gates Foundation read the research on incentive pay, it would have spent the money reducing class sizes for the neediest children.

The Gates program has cost a total of $271 million, including Gates’ $80 million.

The Hillsborough plan inspired state legislation:

“Enacted a year after Hillsborough launched its project, Senate Bill 736 in the Florida Legislature phased out teacher tenure and tied pay to supervisor evaluations and student test scores.”

The program never met its goal of firing 5% of teachers every year:

“The original proposal and a 2010 timeline called for the district to fire 5 percent of its teachers each year for poor performance. That would amount to more than 700 teachers. The thinking was they would be replaced by teachers who earned entry level wages, freeing up money to pay the bonuses for those at the top.

“But the mass firings never happened. While an undetermined number of teachers resign out of dissatisfaction or fear that they will be fired, only a handful of terminations happen because of bad evaluations.”

The Gates Foundation has another flop.

MaryEllen Elia, the superintendent of the Hillsborough school district when it received the Gates grant,, was fired by the school board, then hired this year as state superintendent in Néw York.

“Late in the process, the foundation rejected several of the district’s funding requests for Empowering Effective Teachers, which involves evaluating teachers using specially trained peers and bumping their pay with the idea that it would boost student performance.

“Each of the proposals were robustly outlined and presented,” a district report said.

“But Gates officials responded by pointing to language in the original agreement saying the foundation had promised “up to” $100 million, not necessarily the whole amount, according to the report.

“The district picked up the unpaid costs.

“Much of the disagreement amounted to a change in Gates’ philosophy, Brown said. “After a few years of research,” she said, “they believed there was not enough of a connection between performance bonuses and greater student achievement.”

Now for some laughs, enjoy Peter Greene’s take on Gates’ cancellation of $20 million. He reminds us that Hillsborough was a jewel in Gates’ crown in 2012.

Peter writes:

“Well, that was 2012. A few other things have happened in the meantime. Back in 2010, Arne Duncan and Dennis Van Roekel stopped by to make a fuss, but that was about the last time that anybody wanted to throw an EET party.

“That fire 5% of the sucky teachers thing? It should have gotten rid of 700 (700!!!) teachers– you know, the expensive ones, because everyone knows that the bad teachers that need to be rooted out are, coincidentally, the older teachers who cost a bunch of money. But it never happened.

“And that $100 million grant that Kinser was so proud of? Funny thing. Gates officials would now like you to know that the grant actually said “up to” $100 million.

“I am kind of excited about that, because I know realize that I can tell, say, a used car dealer that I will pay “up to” seventy grand for a car and just pay five thousand bucks. I could promise to buy a new house with “up to” $10 million and just fork over a check for $10.75. I do regret not knowing this trick when my children were young and I could have bribed them to do chores with offers of “up to” $100 for mowing the lawn.”

Now for a deep analysis, read Mercedes Schneider’s analysis of the Hillsborough debacle. The Gates money was a Trojan horse. Not only did it fail to produce a new generation of super-teachers, it drained the district’s reserves.

The Gates money–$80 million, not the promised $100 million–was a cause of great celebration when it was announced. Hillsborough would be a “national model.” In the end, Superintendent Elia was fired in January 2015, the district lost millions, and Gates learned…what?

Mercedes writes:

“Of course, Gates had some ideas about how this “teacher effectiveness” business should work. The report linked above has as its second sentence, “A teacher’s effectiveness has more impact on student learning than any other factor under the control of school systems, including class size, school size, and the quality of after-school programs.” When pro-corporate-reform organizations toss around such statements, they never seem to follow it with the fact that factors external to the classroom hold far more sway that does the teacher. (In analyzing the proportion of teacher influence captured via value-added modeling– VAM– the American Statistical Association notes that teacher influence accounts for between 1 and 14 percent of variance in student test scores. Thus, between 86 and 99 percent of a student’s test score is out of the teacher’s control.)

“Nevertheless, ignoring that the teacher controls so little of student outcomes in the form of market-driven-reform-loving test scores, in its efforts to try to purchase higher student test scores, the Gates Foundation offered ten school districts nationwide the multi-million-dollar-funded opportunity to prove that teachers could indeed be cajoled into producing better “student achievement” (i.e., ever-higher test scores) when such teachers were measured by their students’ test scores and offered more money for “raising” said scores.

“As a 2009 winner of an Empowering Effective Teachers grant, Hillsborough was thrilled (“We’ll be a national model!”). A December 21, 2015 archive of Hillsborough schools’ “Empowering Teachers” webpage includes a number of enthusiastic responses regarding the newly-acquired, $100 million Gates grant. Front and center in these celebratory public statements is then-Hillsborough superintendent, MaryEllen Elia (Then-Governor Charlie Crist: “I commend Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and the Hillsborough County School District for their enthusiasm and commitment to working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation during the next seven years to improve student academic performance through rewarding high quality teachers both professionally and monetarily. The foundation’s generous grant award of $100 million will greatly enhance the work the district has already done in this area.”)

“However, part of the Hillsborough-Gates agreement involved Hillsborough’s ponying up money of its own– which ended up eating into the Hillsborough schools’ reserves and threatening its bond rating. As reported in the August 04, 2015, Tampa Bay Tribune, the Empowering Effective Teachers initiative is not the only financial stressor affecting the Hillsborough bond rating, but it is nevertheless noteworthy.”

How many more such defeats can the reformers take before they figure out that their ideas are failures?

A key Republican leader, who is closely tied to Florida’s booming and profitable charter industry, slipped into the state budget a bill to pay a bonus to teachers with high SAT scores. His bill is known as “Best and Brightest,” assuming that those with the highest SAT scores are or will be the best teachers.

In this post, Florida teacher Melissa Halpern explains the absurdity of this plan. Veteran teachers will get the bonus if they can locate their SAT scores, even if they took the test 20 years ago, but only if they also received a “highly effective” rating based on test scores.

Halpern explains the absurdity:

“Let’s start with the very notion of rewarding a correlation. Incentives work when people have the power to respond to them with effort and action, when they can initiate a cause of success. What if studies found that teaching performance correlated with race, gender, or socioeconomic status (all of which are correlated with SAT scores, by the way)? Would we ever find it acceptable to offer a gender bonus? Of course not. Aside from being discriminatory, such an incentive would be illogical; it offers no room for effort, no goal to work toward.

“Sometimes it’s difficult to discern which correlations are actually causal, but common sense helps. While a teacher’s 20-year-old SAT score is probably not the cause of her success in the classroom, her training, credentials, and years of experience might be; incidentally, these are all proven correlations with teacher performance that Florida has downplayed under its current “merit pay” system, which replaced the old experience-based salary schedule in 2010….

“It seems, then, that the Best and Brightest incentive is not really an incentive at all, and that whatever it is, it certainly wasn’t devised to reward experienced teachers in the first place.

“So who does stand to benefit from this program? Primarily new teachers, especially those who might like to grab a bonus for a short teaching stint, and bail for a career that actually pays. Teach For America corp members, who are only held to a two-year teaching commitment, might just fit the bill.

“Interestingly, teachers coming out of TFA tend to populate the revolving employment doors of charter schools run by for-profit companies—much like the ones with whom Rep. Fresen happens to have close business ties.

“It shouldn’t come as a shock that a Florida legislator might vote for a financially motivated policy in the name of public education—at least it makes their ultimate goal of privatizing education a little more transparent.”

Celeste Richter, a highly rated Florida teacher, does not want a bonus for a test she took nearly 25 years ago.

The legislature passed a plan to award $10,000 to teachers who had high SAT scores in high school. The bonus is also available to currents teachers who are rated “highly effective” but only if they had high SAT scores. Veteran teachers may not be able to obtain their SAT scores, or learn whether they were in top 20%, as the law requires.

“I refuse,” said Richter, a highly-effective rated AP government teacher at Wesley Chapel High School. “A test I took in 1991 is not valid to say what a quality educator I am.”

“Richter, who’s entering her 19th year of teaching, isn’t looking up her SAT scores, though she recalls doing well. She doesn’t want the state’s award of up to $10,000, though she really could use it.

“As a moral principle, I don’t believe this is an effective way to reward teachers for a good job,” she said, further noting that the final amount will likely be far less than the maximum. “I’m not going to run after crumbs.”

For standing on principle, for courage and candor, Celeste Richter joins the blog’s honor roll.

Many people think the law is a giveaway to Teach for America, who will earn more than 10-year veterans and leave in two or three years. Its author, Erik Fresen, is a member of a family that owns a large charter chain, Academica.

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