February 27, 2009

Education funding politics in Florida

Later this morning, a few thousand teachers and their friends will be gathering in Orlando to rally on behalf of public education in Florida. The Make Our Schools a Priority campaign has been making waves, most recently with a Brevard County 10,000-person "town hall" meeting with the county's legislative delegation. If I weren't still coughing and sneezing, I'd be on a bus this morning to Orlando, but I don't think my friends from other unions really want what I have, and I trust that there will be enough people there.

Until Governor Crist announced his proposed budget at the end of last week, most people I'd talked to had assumed that both the governor and leaders from at least one chamber were open to increasing revenues. But then Crist dropped a bomb and suggested a budget that relied heavily on the federal recovery package, a gambling pact he wants the legislature to approve, and a handful of user fee increases. In other words, Crist refused to be out front in support of tax increases. Instead, he's set up the dynamics of state politics to be able to lay the blame elsewhere for either tax increases or service cuts.

If I were a legislative leader, I might well feel as if the governor had stabbed me in the back, especially if I had been discussing tax increases as one option. As a voter, I think the proposed budget is Crist's most cowardly moment in office, because it is unnecessary to defend his popularity (his ratings are high) and because it bollixes up what could have been a reasonably civil legislative session in horrible times. Instead, the session will start out with legislative leaders who will not be able to trust the governor to work with them and provide them cover for tax increases.

This is why the campaign on behalf of education funding is crucial, providing external pressure on legislators and convince them that not only is funding education the right thing, it's also the politically smart thing.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:44 PM (Permalink) |

Just call it like it is, after you've paid your dues

It looks like a bunch of interested parties are starting to judge the Obama administration based on its appointments and early policy direction. And that's just fine. But when there's Fordham's Reform-a-meter, and Diane Ravitch proclaims Duncan's USDOE to be Bush's third term, I'll chime in with Fred Klonsky: judge people for what they do, but remember the context.

Thus far into the Obama administration, I'm fairly sure on the majority of key issues where I'm going to agree with the administration on education policy, where I'm going to disagree, and where I'm not going to be sure or not going to care. That leaves some issues where it's not clear where the Obama administration is going. I'm willing to call out administration officials when they make mistakes, as well as give them credit when they shove things in the right direction.

There's a totality to be considered: even if the Obama administration goes way too far in the direction of paying teachers for student test scores, they still get credit in my book for pushing a recovery package that will save thousands of teachers' jobs (even if the package was too small). And for proposing to index Pell grants, shift all subsidized loans to the direct program, etc. If you really expect to agree with everything a president does, you need to run for the office yourself. Other than that, expect to disagree with a few hundred decisions of the person you voted for, because presidents make thousands of decisions every year.

Case in point: FDR, who did a bunch of great things, but here's an incomplete list of the completely sucky actions of his administration during 12+ years in office ("completely sucky" is a technical term in policy evaluation):

  • Forcing Japanese Americans into internment camps during WW2
  • Allowing the Federal Home Loan Bank Board to create redlining
  • Not pushing Congress on anti-lynching legislation
  • Not putting more teeth into the Fair Employment Practices Commission
  • The practices of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, which gave landowners in the South an incentive to push tenant farmers and sharecroppers off the land
  • The court-packing scheme
  • Deciding to cut back on stimulus spending early in his second term, which created the 1937 recession within the depression.

The stupid or immoral decisions did not eliminate the great ones, nor the converse. In the same way that book reviewers have an obligation to recognize what authors are trying to accomplish, there's a similar obligation when evaluating a segment of an administration's policies: pay your dues to the context and then call it like it is. The Bush administration was a disaster in many, many ways, so the fact that it pushed assistance with AIDS responses in Africa was a tiny good thing in a morass of incompetence. I suspect that my long-term evaluation of the Obama administration will be the converse in many ways.

And right now, like Paul Krugman, I'm more worried about the economy than performance-pay policies.

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Posted in History at 9:09 AM (Permalink) |

Real news on education

For some reason, U.S. News and the Christian Science Monitor decided to take my comments on the president's speech Tuesday out of context and spin one clause as an "I'm not impressed with the president" remark. Sheesh. I'm generally happy with his actions thus far as president, but I can also recognize that there was relatively little emphasis on concrete education policy Tuesday night. Stating a desire for higher educational attainment is not exactly new in presidential speeches.

The real news on higher-ed policy this week came yesterday with the proposed budget and how it addresses college affordability. It's one thing to say that we want people to attend and complete college, and it's another to propose how to get there. For any reporter who happens to read this, I'm delighted with the proposals to index Pell Grants, shift loans to the direct-loan program, and create a partially refundable tax credit for tuition and fees. Here's where the most important battles will be fought.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:48 AM (Permalink) |

February 25, 2009

On exaggerations in the service of bitterness

Today, Charles Barone indulged in some recriminations about the use of test data to evaluate teachers: "In fact, in many states there is tremendous pressure to pass legislation which assures a firewall-like separation between teachers and student performance. Such laws have already passed in California, New York, and Wisconsin; ..."

But let's examine that claim with regard to New York, about which others such as Kevin Carey and Jennifer Jennings wrote last April. The language:

3012b. Minimum Standards for Tenure Determinations for Teachers.

(a) A superintendent of schools or district superintendent of schools, prior to recommending tenure for a teacher, shall evaluate all relevant factors, including the teacher's effectiveness over the applicable probationary period, or over three years in the case of a regular substitute with a one-year probationary period, in contributing to the successful academic performance of his or her students. When evaluating a teacher for tenure, each school district and board of cooperative educational services shall utilize a process that complies with subdivision (b) of this section.

(b) The process for evaluation of a teacher for tenure shall be consistent with article 14 of the Civil Service Law and shall include a combination of the following minimum standards:

(1) evaluation of the extent to which the teacher successfully utilized analysis of available student performance data (for example: State test results, student work, school-developed assessments, teacher-developed assessments, etc.) and other relevant information (for example: documented health or nutrition concerns, or other student characteristics affecting learning) when providing instruction but the teacher shall not be granted or denied tenure based on student performance data;

(2) peer review by other teachers, as far as practicable; and

(3) an assessment of the teacher's performance by the teacher's building principal or other building administrator in charge of the school or program, which shall consider all the annual professional performance review criteria set forth in section 100.2(o)(2)(iii)(b)(1) of the Regulations of the Commissioner.

The part that was added last spring is in italics, but the rest remains, including clear performance references in bold. How are we supposed to read the combination of "the extent to which the teacher successfully utilized analysis of available student performance data... when providing instruction" together with the ban on granting or denying tenure "based on student performance data"? I'm not a lawyer, but obviously there has to be data for one to judge teachers on how well they use the data. My reading (which I think is plausible) is that one couldn't make a blanket decision based only on test scores, but you could grant or deny tenure based on how well a teacher used the data in adjusting instruction. This latter is pretty close to the best-world scenario of Response to Intervention (RTI) policy, which has a lot of research at least in core areas in elementary schools. In comments on Barone's entry, I wrote,

I think we may be reading the same legal language with very different lenses. To me, the tenure-qualifications language in NY state essentially conforms with RTI -- teachers have to show that they can use data. Those upset with the added language for this year -- which bars a brain-dead statistical formula -- must think it would be as appropriate and also easier to define effectiveness with test scores as what is currently allowed/required by law. Me? I don't think there's anything that's easy here to implement in a fair way, and there ain't yet no Holy Grail. I also suspect that there is no provision in NY law that prohibits the type of analysis of teacher education that Louisiana has been building for the last 5-7 years. Either I'm reading your definition of a firewall too broadly, or I'm misreading NY law.

Here is Barone's response, word-for-word (the bold-faced sentence is my emphasis):

It seems to depend on how you define "brain dead." The data can't be used, thoughtfully or otherwise, to inform tenure decisions. Whether there is a holy grail, or it hasn't been found, remains to be seen. But surely everyone agrees that poor and minority kids are getting the short end of the stick, and data available now can and should be used to help level the playing field for kids while we adults have our fun little debates. I notice you rarely use the word student or child, unless you are quoting me. I think we need to err on the side of the kids for a while even if it makes adults uncomfortable. If we wait for there to be a consensus among academics, today's kindergartners will be collecting Social Security before anything is done. If then.

The "bitterness" referred to in the title of this entry refers to this response. I'm disappointed by Barone's avoidance of the substantive topic by applying a rhetorical litmus test (how often I mention children in my blog), as well as the politician's logic here (something must be done; this is something; so we must do it). But let me get to the point: Barone is misreading the law. Data can be used to inform tenure decisions, and in fact, they must be, because the law requires that part of the tenure decision depends on teacher use of data. No data, no use of data -- no tenure. It may not be Barone's picture of how data informs a personnel decision, but Barone's claim is just plain wrong

Addendum: In comments, Barone argues that the New York state law is clear and bars use of test data for making tenure decisions. Here's the way to decide it:

1) Does New York law prohibit a district from denying tenure because a teacher refuses to implement Response to Intervention practices?

2) Is Response to Intervention something based on student performance data?

If the answers are "no" and "yes," respectively, I'm right. Any other combination, and Barone is right. Let's try another scenario:

Main office conference room, where the assistant principal is meeting with a new teacher. "Let's look at your student's last quizzes and talk about where they learned the material well, and where you might want to reteach."

The teacher holds up his hand. "Wait a minute. Am I going to be judged based on what I say in this meeting?"

The assistant principal nods her head. "In part, what I'm judging with your effectiveness is how you respond to student needs. C'mon. Let's just look at the quizzes."

"No way. State law forbids the use of student performance data in tenure decisions. I'm talking with my union rep!"

If Barone is right in the global sense, this conversation could really happen. But I don't think it could (or has). When Barone claimed that New York had put a "firewall" between teachers and performance data, I know he was thinking in the narrow sense of "if students perform poorly on standardized tests, then we should be able to deny tenure." But regardless of whether that is a good or bad policy, that's not the only way one can connect teachers and student performance. Expecting teachers to look at student performance and change instruction based on data is a second way, and New York does not bar it. Looking at teacher education and student performance is a third way, and New York does not bar it. Which of those three is good policy is an interesting and debatable question, but what is not debatable is that all three connect teachers to data.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 8:02 PM (Permalink) |

One-Blog Schoolhouse: contents and index

Want to know precisely what is in the new One-Blog Schoolhouse? You can now look at the prefatory and index pages as well as the references (with one spelling error fixed, thanks to A.G. Rud).

One-Blog Schoolhouse prefatory and index pages

Publish at Scribd or explore others: blogging books

Okay, now you've seen the contents; go buy it.

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Posted in Education policy at 3:02 PM (Permalink) |

Not quitters

I'm sure that there will be much tea-leaf reading in the next few days, but there isn't that much from the president's address that's dramatically news-breaking on education policy. The call for everyone to attend some higher education is a little new, but the theme isn't. The most obvious way to read the statements about reform, charter schools, and higher education is that President Obama is now the 6th president since 1960 to devote significant lip service to education as human capital and education policy as investment in human capital.

Well, that and Ty'Sheoma Bethea's letter. Let's hope she's part of a full generation of non-quitters.

Addendum: Apparently reporters took this entry out of contest; see Friday's note for a little more.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:50 AM (Permalink) |

February 24, 2009

Sick leave and pensions

I'm taking one of my rare sick days today, and while I don't have that much stamina to concentrate for a long time, I'll note just a few thoughts about debates over teacher pensions a la Chad Aldeman's comments. First, the entire debate strikes me as largely unconscious of or compartmentalized from the larger context or debates over retirement in general. First, if pension plans are underfunded, the problem is not that they're overgenerous but at least partially that state legislators aren't willing to set aside the money to put them on a sound actuarial basis. Florida's retirement system used to be underfunded, and one of Lawton Chiles's primary accomplishments as governor in the 1990s was changing that. And I figure that if my dysfunctional state can fix a pension system, so can any state.

Second, Aldeman's point about looking at defined-benefit and defined-contribution systems together rather than in an either/or sense makes sense... and anyone who talks to a financial planner will (or should) hear the basic point they all make about the triad of funding retirement (Social Security, pensions, and personal assets). Michael Katz makes a similar point in The Price of Citizenship about the public-private nature of the modern welfare state that combines different categories of institutional structures. I don't know about you, but when Michael Katz and financial planners agree on a description of retirement, I'm going to believe that.

Third, the debate has this odd "leveling down" tone to it--not in the literature that Alderman is referring to but in political debates I've occasionally seen among state legislators. Because some people don't have decent retirements, then teachers shouldn't, either. (Somehow the higher pension payouts for police and fire aren't brought up in those discussions...)  I don't understand why that is either a practical or a moral claim for public policy, but that may be my unwell state. Maybe if I had a few gazillion fewer viruses in my system, I'd understand the reasoning better.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly: any concerns you or I might have about underfunding of defined-benefit pension plans should be dwarfed by concerns about health-care costs. Social Security's structural problems are a pittance compared to health care. State pension plan underfunding is minor compared to the looming costs of health care. If you're really concerned about the next generation, give some time in the next week to learning about health-care costs. I'd start with Peter Orszag in 2007, last spring (courtesy of Brad DeLong), or yesterday.

So we're back to my being sick again. Or health care, at least. Hope you're feeling better than I am.

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Posted in Education policy at 3:23 PM (Permalink) |

Stationary population models and graduation

In odd moments in the last few weeks, I've been playing around with a standard demographic concept, the stationary population model. This is one of those things that don't really exist in reality, a population with constant mortality and fertility rates, with no migration in or out, and where the population is the same every year (no natural increase). In essence, a stationary population model is like a stripped-down car, something with all the extras out of the way so you can look at the engine while it's running. The question I've had is, if one looks at a stationary population model of high school, what can one say about a high school if one observes the total enrollment, the ninth-grade enrollment, the number of graduates, and the distribution of graduates by years in high school?

A few minutes of scribbling shows that the crude graduation rate (or the number of graduates divided by the total enrollment)  is equal to the probability of graduating times the rate of new ninth graders entering every year. The probability of graduating and the number of new ninth graders are both interesting and unobserved quantities. Unfortunately, they're also dependent on a crucial third unobserved quantity, the difference between the entering-ninth-grade rate and the proportion of the high school in ninth grade. (One way of interpreting this is the overestimate of entering 9th graders. Another interpretation is the proportion of total school life experienced in repeating ninth grade.) 

Because my life is now booked, I've only spent odd moments away from a computer on this exercise, but the obvious next step is to generate some simulated stationary populations (e.g., bootstrap samples of NELS:88, constrained to confirm to a range of graduation probabilities) and then look for regularities in the relationships between the underlying population measures and what would normally be observed from published data. Given the inherent constraints of the true value for the entering-ninth-grade rate (between 0.25 and the observed ninth-grade proportion), and a few other things, I suspect that regularities exist. Update: the problems of writing when sick is that one forgets obvious things like, NELS data sets do not have year-by-year information on enrollment. On the other hand, the Bureau of Labor Statistics longitudinal surveys (starting in 1979 and 1997) are every year...

Then the next step is to move on to a stable population model, where you relax the zero-growth assumption and assume a constant growth rate. That's important because school populations do not remain constant. (Neither does growth remain constant, but a stable population model introduces one level of complexity, and it's loads easier to understand than the full-blown, "let the population do what it wants to" model.) The problem here is that one crucial number in a stable population model is a term that normally corresponds to the mean length of a generation. This has no clear interpretation in a model of high school enrollment, so that's an interesting hurdle.

Incidentally, if anyone wants to jump ahead of me on this research program, feel free to dive in. The water's fine, I'm not likely to follow up for some months, and there are some interesting payoffs. Among other things, in a stationary population model, the product of life expectancy at birth and the birth rate is always one. In the school parallel with a stationary population model, if you multiply the entering-ninth-grade rate by the average time spent in high school, you will always get one. From there and the data on graduates, it's simple to calculate the average time spent in high school by those who eventually drop out.

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Posted in Research at 12:39 AM (Permalink) |

February 22, 2009

Forward moment-choo-m

When my mind has strange inclinations, I sometimes anthropomorphize my mental state: "Oh, gee, isn't it interesting that my brain cannot make the connections I usually can, or it's making very strange connections. I wonder why it does that." I don't worry about the recursion there, because the technique is largely a way to stop being worried about my mental state at the moment.

Case in point: head colds. I should head to bed soon (it's a little after 10), and while part of the motivation is to heal a little faster, there's also a role to stop wasting energy on thoughts that are going to look far less clever in the cold light of day (or at least a day when I don't have a cold). It is only during a head cold that a full chorus of an as-yet-unwritten song about research ethics could come into my brain mostly unbidden:

Your momma told you not to be rude to the evidence.
When your brain takes a hard right turn,
Listen to the data and you just might learn (why)
Your momma told you not to be rude to the evidence.
Now that you've made a bold prediction,
Looking at data better be your addiction

(For the record, the tune in my head is far less country than it is '70s upbeat pop. And "hard right turn" is there less as political ideology than as a phrase that rhymes with "might learn." And yes, I'm willing to take suggestions for alternatives!) Yeah -- I know what you bold and persevering epistemologists are going to say. Nonetheless, there is something to be said for this perspective. Or so my brain says tonight; I don't have verses, and I'm probably going to wince at this on Tuesday or Wednesday.

My philosophy on such days is to maintain some forward momentum; concentration is going to be limited, so pick out tasks that require less. (That, and take naps between spurts of work, at least when home.) This is an important sanity-saving maneuver, because I had hoped to use yesterday and today to get a lot of no-internet reading time that I need to catch up on. Instead, I did a portion of the tasks I had hoped to accomplish before my sinuses controlled my fate, and I just kept picking small chunks. If I'm feeling more like myself tomorrow, I'll pick up the pace, having gotten some of them out of the way.

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Posted in The academic life at 10:07 PM (Permalink) |

Trip triage

My travel schedule in both the near and far term is becoming abbreviated. In the short term, I am canceling two trips to Orlando I had planned for the next two weeks because I've had a cold this weekend and know my limits (or at least need to start behaving as if I know them). It's either that or shortchange other things that are higher priorities or that were commitments long before I had known of the Orlando events.

And then I am also going to scale back my professional conference travel for the next year or so, at least until I know what travel support is going to look like at my institution. I have a hard and fast commitment for one conference in October, but I may skip one of my favorite meetings because it's on the other side of the country.

I suspect a lot of academics are going to be looking at conference travel with a more jaundiced eye in the next year or two: institutions will either give no or much less travel assistance. In my case, since I'm a full professor, multiple conference presentations every year are less critical to my career, and I don't think it's ethical for me to grab resources in my college that should be there for assistant and associate professors. There are also a few pieces that I should turn from conference papers to article manuscripts to submit to journals.

There are some downstream consequences of this: lower conference attendance (as happened in fall 2001 and the next few quarters), and for huge conferences such as AERA, AHA, CEC, APA, etc., there may be a perverse incentive for the scholarly societies to increase their registration fees to make up for lower attendance... which may reduce attendance further and certainly put these meetings out of the reach of more new scholars.

Will "unconferences" or virtual conferences fill the gap? Probably not for new scholars, since the coin of the realm for scholarly meetings is the refereed (and high-visibility) national and international conference.

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Posted in The academic life at 9:33 PM (Permalink) |

February 20, 2009

One-Blog Schoolhouse, the Musical collection of ... edited blog entries

In the last few months, in odd moments, I've edited about three-dozen entries I've written in the past few years so you could hold the new One-Blog Schoolhouse in your hands after buying it at your local internet book dealer.

Why should you buy a book composed of blog entries that you could probably find somewhere online (i.e., here) and read for free?

  • The title is great. Admit it: you need to buy the book just because of the title.
  • There are only two ways you can read my letter to the president on education policy: work at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, or buy the book. The letter is in the prefatory materials, right after the acknowledgments.
  • I've taken care to edit the entries so you don't have to remember what was going on in the blogosphere in September 2007 or any other month.
  • I have secretly conspired to upgrade my blog platform a few months ago in such a way that the search-box no longer works. Bwahahaha!  Uh, no; that lack of functionality is not my fault, and you could use Google to find any blog entry here. But the book has a friendly table of contents and an index that will smile if you give it dark chocolate. (I need to get a PDF of the contents and index online, and when I do, I'll write another entry to point to it.)
  • While I have some selected reading suggestions in the text, there is a more complete list of references available for downloading right now.
  • When you are on a plane or otherwise disengaged from the internet, you can get the exact same experience that you would by reading my blog, except that you don't have backlighting, and the book itself is much lighter than whatever you're using to read this entry.
  • When you have a friend or colleague who just refuses to read blogs, you can put the book under her or his nose and say, "This is what you've been missing!"
  • You will find the book priced for an economic downturn, less expensive than anything else in print with my name as author or editor.
  • The cover has the friendly slogan in big red letters, "Don't Panic." Since the book cover is also red, you may find the slogan a little tough to find. But it's there!

So buy One-Blog Schoolhouse today.

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Posted in Personal at 7:06 PM (Permalink) |

Technology and assessment

Education Sector's new report Beyond the Bubble is shorter than I had expected, so I finished it while watching the end of my son's tae kwondo class last night. It looks to be a decent summary of the optimistic side of technology-and-assessment literature. Its tone is, "Yes, we can dramatically change and improve assessment with technology that is either just about to come online or that deserves some investment." And I think that for some things, that's absolutely right: an online/computerized science exam could have color images of tissue slides, videos of animal behavior, and so forth. But, while author Bill Tucker bowed his head in the direction of friendly technoskeptic Larry Cuban, there are some flies in the ointment:

  • Students with disabilities. This is true for pencil-and-paper tests as well, but when you only have black ink, there are a few other issues you don't have to worry about that on-screen designers have to: red-green color blindness, epilepsy and screen movement, etc. The half-page on universal design is good, and any CFP will need to specify (and budget for) disability/accessibility awareness.
  • Code creep. I don't mean internet safety but the fact that programming languages grow up and die. We've gone from perl to python, from HTML to XML, and languages and interfaces will continue to evolve. I wonder how many of the cases pointed to in the report are essentially one-off projects that will die at some point because the platform no longer exists. (Any readers remember Infocom's text games?)
  • Holy Grail syndrome, also known as a belief in "the leap in cognitive science that will allow perfect, automatic scoring of essays is just around the corner." Same with the great and brilliant analysis of hundreds of microstate data that a single student can generate in a simulation environment. I trust colleagues who work in cognitive psychology to do some great things in the next decade, but this seems a bit utopian. Okay, more than a bit.

All of this doesn't say we shouldn't be engaged in using technology, but maybe we should work along two tracks: encourage the fast, frequent, and flexible for now and also invest in the medium- and long-term projects.

There is something that the paper never addresses: intellectual-property rights. Part of the imprisonment of assessment in an oligopoly is the ownership of assessment materials, backed up by the fear of security problems. (Here's reality for you: the day after a state test is given, assume NO security for that test. None. Despite all the laws. Just give that idea up, folks, unless you believe in the tooth fairy, have never heard of BitTorrent, and don't think college students ever cheat.) I am curious what the position of various folks are on open-source assessment. I am not entirely sure what it would consist of, or how it would meet adequate technical standards, but it's tough to argue that despite the testing industry's oligopoly status, we should suddenly think that a brand-new investment will erase both the proprietary rights of the major firms or the start-up threshhold for the creation of commercially-viable products.

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Posted in Education policy at 1:26 PM (Permalink) |

Some things not even Dave Barry can make up

I wish the strange case of Dr. Rao were fictional, but it isn't. My imagination just got served by reality.

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Posted in Out of Left Field Friday at 1:01 PM (Permalink) |

February 19, 2009

Better late than never

Proof that the Obama Administration is doing the right thing but not always on my preferred schedule: Sweet Honey in the Rock performed in the White House yesterday, either 29 or 31 days after they should have performed publicly. And they'll be performing publicly April 12 at the Lincoln Memorial for the Marian Anderson Tribute Concert. We know that the president likes the Boss, but only one group has a founder who's a curator emeritus at the Smithsonian Institution. Now that's culture.

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Posted in Random comments at 10:03 AM (Permalink) |

The new/old myths about tenure

If you read an entry earlier this month on Fordham's Flypaper blog, you might have the impression that Ohio Governor Ted Strickland rolled the unions by wanting tenure to be awarded after nine years and changing the dismissal standards to "just cause." You might also have the same impression by reading some news stories about the proposal.

You would have the wrong impression, though. As the Plain Dealer's coverage of the proposal explains, both the Ohio Education Association and Ohio Federation of Teachers were on the inside of roundtable discussions on teacher quality, and while they have some quibbles about the reform, it looks like they're generally behind them. That's probably because there's now statewide policy support for early-career mentoring. (The implementation in this budget environment's a different story.) And the quibbles? Surprise! At least as far as I can tell, it's not about the just-cause standard for discipline, since that's standard in union contracts around the country. Let's hear from one union representative:

Michelle Prater, spokeswoman for the Ohio Education Association, said her group likes the added support for beginning teachers, especially since new teachers are spending little time with mentors under the current entry-year system.

But it would be better to tie tenure to meeting standards than to grant it after an arbitrary number of years, she said.

So the quibble of OEA is that they're not getting enough of ... standards.

At Ed Week, Stephen Sawchuk exaggerates moves in Ohio, a bill in Florida, and Michelle Rhee's proposals to assert a mini-trend of attacks on tenure. This is both amnesiac reporting (as if no one criticized tenure before 2007) and overgeneralizing. In Florida, the legislature eliminated the term "tenure" from K-12 statutes years ago, and what happens now is that teachers receive professional contracts... which operate just like tenure. The bill proposed this year is just that right now, a bill. Michelle Rhee's move has attracted lots of attention, but we'll see where it goes. And Ohio's move is different from the others because, well, teachers are inside the process. Not necessarily agreeing with everything, but inside the process.

Now, for the policy questions, especially for the proposal by some of Florida's legislators: what makes you think that eliminating tenure is going to raise teacher quality? In most districts for the first few years (when a lot of teachers leave anyway!), teachers can be fired at any time and their contracts can be nonrenewed. In collective bargaining agreements, there are provisions for gathering evidence that a teacher has problems in the classroom, putting the teacher in a corrective or probationary status, providing support, and then firing the teacher. When administrators don't spend the time supervising teachers, they're not in a position to fire them. So, if tenure for experienced teachers is eliminated, and administrators are still not spending time supervising teachers, what's going to be improved? The most that advocates of tenure elimination can claim is that there will be slightly improved capacity to fire a few experienced teachers at the margins. And all that advocates usually trot out are anecdotes of the administrative headaches experienced when firing teachers. My guess is that behind each of those headaches is a history of passive or incompetent administrators.

Basic fact: it's only administrators who set a fog-the-mirror standard for teachers. It's not other teachers, because they know they'll have to deal with the mess left by colleagues who are incompetent or leave in the middle of a year. It's not unions, because no union officer wants to defend incompetents. (It's part of the legal duty of representation, and it comes with the territory--one of our vice provosts calls us the equivalent of public defenders--but it's not the most thrilling part of the job.) 

In higher education, the debate over "post-tenure review" was about 10-15 years ago, and in the case of Florida, one of our public universities was established on condition that it not grant tenure. Within a few years, from what I heard, administrators at Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) were pleading with their political overlords to create a system of rolling three-year contracts that remain in their first year as long as the faculty member is satisfactory on the last annual review. Why? No one wanted to come to Florida Gulf Coast without some stability, and they left for greener fields given the instability of fixed-term contracts and the hazard of renewal depending entirely on the whim of administrators in the last year. So FGCU ended up with a system that's hybrid... and where it is easier to keep a job than at other institutions, such as mine (where tenure-track assistant professors need to be rated as excellent in research or teaching and outstanding in one to earn tenure).

That inability to keep people at FGCU without a tenure system has its parallels in K-12. Not everywhere, but there are persistent shortages of qualified teachers in math, science, and special education (for almost any definition of qualified you want to pick). To keep good people in those spots, you'd need to pay them decently and give them some reason to believe that they're not going to be fired capriciously.

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Posted in Education policy at 10:00 AM (Permalink) |

February 17, 2009

What can you do in 20 minutes? and don't forget Weighted Student Funding

In lieu of actual content, a brief note: I have about 20 minutes left before I have to run out the door again. Last Thursday, I had 6 meetings. Friday had a morning meeting, a mid-morning meeting, a 75-minute drive to another meeting, and the reverse 75-minute drive to yet another meeting. Yesterday had three meetings, today two meetings and two more 75-minute drives surrounding a guest lecture. All have been meaningful, often productive. I've also produced a prodigious amount of stuff that's been necessary, including the EPAA article that just appeared (the indomitable Bruce Baker explains some quite-relevant problems with Weighted Student Funding arguments), prepping the next EPAA article. Had good conversations otherwise, have an interesting idea on one of my current projects while taking a good walk, exercised other than walking, spent time with my children...

No regrets, other than the desire for one or two days this week to fulfill my promise to myself on non-internet time, and time to write a long blog entry. Among other things, I have a bunch of reader requests for blog entries I'd like to get to. Say, with teacher quality (or some facsimile) as the first one up? Lots of recent stuff on that, and while I cannot promise to read the recent IES paper in the present lifetime, I should at least be able to trout out Ye Olde Historical Perspective on teacher qualifications and the like. (Mandatory reading on the topic: chapter 1 of Edward Eggleston's The Hoosier Schoolmaster.)

One more brief thought: While at the other end of the 75-minute drive, after the guest speaker class, my colleague and I talked in a cafe while watching the president sign the stimulus bill. Again, I'm filled with the sense that the stimulus is about half the size that's necessary, either for macroeconomic purposes or for saving K-12 teachers' jobs. (Sorry, Kevin, but while I wish that this truly represented a doubling of Title I funding, in reality that part of the stimulus is an emergency stopgap to prevent teachers in Florida and elsewhere from being dumped and in turn dragging the economy down even further.)

For my personal motivations (as someone whose job is to safeguard the interests and values of a 1700-person bargaining unit), what's more obviously valuable is the subsidy of 60% of COBRA payments. That's a huge boost for the unemployed. It tells you something about the state of the economy that a boost in COBRA payments is one of the most thrilling parts of the stimulus for me, but that's life.

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Posted in The academic life at 6:57 PM (Permalink) |

February 15, 2009

Propagation of the rock-star professor myth

A few weeks ago, I worried about how the distribution of lectures on iTunes was promoting the idea of higher education as lecture. Along comes Academic Earth, which is collecting what appears to be the most charismatic of the iTunes professors. On the one hand, there are some wonderful lecturers, this is a great advertisement for good lecturing, and it sets the standard for what we should be doing when we choose to lecture.

On the other hand, this propagates the idea of the student as a voyeur, someone who watches a charismatic (generally male) teacher rather than works with the material. A class is not a lecture, and iTunes does not currently showcase great discussions and cannot showcase your personal experience in a class.

Richard Ludlow's project (and its showcasing of lecturing) is great as a small taste, a teaser for college that could democratize the appetite for a good class. But if it's not quite Don LaFontaine's voice (the trailer for Quantum Physics: "In a world where matter appears and disappears faster than you can observe it..."), it's still not the whole experience. 

See also Stephen Downes's concern about Academic Earth's reliance on U.S. faculty.

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Posted in Higher education at 8:15 AM (Permalink) |

February 14, 2009

Stimulating thoughts

Now that the stimulus package has passed, a few thoughts:

  1. The speed of the conference-committee work was breathtaking. Years from now, apart from what happens with the economy and the rest of his presidency,  political historians will remember the fact that President Obama achieved an unprecedented legislative victory less than 25 days after becoming president. FDR's First Hundred Days, ha! Obama's just set a new standard. Well, not quite: FDR's start was more astounding in terms of the change in federal power. But this week was still remarkable, and my jaw was on the floor when I read of the conference-committee agreement at the end of Wednesday.
  2. This bill will save thousands of teachers' jobs. Thousands of teachers will still lose their jobs, but it would have been much, much worse without this bill. That fact will change the conversation in Washington. 
  3. We still do not know the consequences of the millions in the Secretary of Education's discretionary spending authority, what Mike Petrilli is calling a slush fund, or the larger incentive fund, what Charles Barone hopes is the authority of Arne Duncan to mandate that states move on existing mandates. Let's keep things in perspective: $600 million is a lot of money, and $5 billion is more, but the first is about 0.1% of the discretionary authority handed to the Treasury Secretary in the bailout funds, and the second is also a small amount of money compared with all education spending each year. Big?  Yes. Consequences? Not quite known yet.

Is it the fulcrum Andy Rotherham wants? No. As the Bush education officials found out (and what Petrilli explained on the last Gadfly podcast), regulations still circumscribe what would otherwise appear to be discretionary. And as I've implied above, it's the saving of teachers' jobs that is more likely to change policy conversations. It's better to ask, "what can you do with $600 million/$5 billion?"

But I'm going to ask something different: what are the standards that we should expect for any "innovative" project? Here are some down-to-earth ideas that could easily be the standard:

  • Development of software for formative assessment should prioritize the fast, frequent, flexible, and simple: see my February 6 entry on periodic assessment for why.
  • Local infrastructure standards that minimize the time wasted by teachers and others waiting for software and servers to respond. Right now in one Florida school district, the software/hardware for scheduling students is so horrible that counselors are waiting 30 minutes for the server to process all the tasks for a single student for one semester. The IEP-drafting software for a Florida school district is likewise a good time-waster for special-education teachers, being so modular that almost every operation requires a click and then waiting for the next page. If it wastes teacher time, it should be cut out.
  • Evaluation does not mean a single organization collecting and analyzing data. Evaluation with federal dollars should mean collecting data with some quality and then letting a variety of people have access to it.
  • Development of longitudinal databases need to be accompanied by auditing mechanisms, not just consistency and sense editing. Hire a data-entry clerk for each school, as Florida does, and you still have a massive editing task by school districts. And even after that, researchers occasionally find data quirks such as 26-year-old first-graders (i.e., birthdate entered wrong). And that doesn't address issues such as marking dropouts as transfers.
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Posted in Education policy at 11:45 AM (Permalink) |

February 11, 2009

Express gratitude when the roller coaster turns you upside down

Someone I respect has been pushing me and some other friends to think about what's going right in the world (and our lives), instead of focusing on the aggravations, of which there are too many. So in the spirit of exercising gratitude instead of exorcising aggravations...

  • My family is wonderful and is worth every second I spend with them and every bit of (the relatively little) pain I've endured for them.
  • Right now, I am snowed under by too many things, every one of which I have chosen to do of my own free will (or tasks I would choose anyway, such as breathing). If you're connected to a task I'm late on, please be assured that you are NOT low on the list; you're tied for second with 79 other people I owe things to! (My family comes first, no matter how good-looking you may be.)
  • We have a stimulus package. I could quibble and argue with bits and pieces, but we have something that's much, much better than nothing.
  • Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's and Abraham Lincoln's births. One argued that in the long run life is shaped and reshaped by randomness; the other argued that it should not be. We are the better for both of them.
  • The author of the next EPAA article (out VERY SHORTLY) found nothing wrong in the proof PDF "galleys." Nothing. (Yet.)
  • I've found plenty of things wrong in the proof of my own next publication, and I can say that it's all my own fault. Which means I can't and don't have to get angry at anyone else.
  • I've sent off my letter to the president, as I threatened/promised to do a while ago. At the very least, it will give a White House staff member a little more exercise with the letter-opener. No, you don't get to read it yet; it's impolite to distribute a letter to others before the intended recipient even has a chance to receive it.
  • The fact that I am behind on so many tasks just means that I won't be bored tomorrow.
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Posted in The academic life at 11:04 PM (Permalink) |

February 9, 2009

Cutting reading coaches

Yesterday morning's Lakeland Ledger story on the cutting of reading coaches has a good (if brief) discussion of the issues. While the current economic catastrophe is much worse than any other recession since WW2, this dynamic is a result of the way that schools respond to reform pressures by adding pieces to the school: you hire a special educator, you hire a speech/language therapist, you add vocational education, etc. It's what The Shopping Mall High School described as a curricular centrifuge (my term, not the authors'), but there's another consequence: if pieces can be added, they can be subtracted. This has happened with every wave of dropout-prevention programs since the 1960s: something is added with temporary funding, it remains at the margins of a system, and then after the funding dries up, the program disappears. Reading coaches in Florida appeared and expanded with federal Reading First funding. Reading First is on its way out as a program, and with the funding crisis, so are the reading coaches.

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Posted in Education policy at 9:32 AM (Permalink) |

Everyone's job prospects are sinking

In discussing new employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics when disaggregated by educational attainment, Andy Rotherham argues that "problems are hardly equally distributed and again the returns to education are apparent."

Looking at the table (and at the seasonally-adjusted figures), it's clear that there are differences in January's unemployment rates (12.0% for high school dropouts, 3.8% for college graduates), but there were also differences before the economy fell off the table. How do you tell whether the current differences are changed from prior differences?

My usual tool to use in this situation is the relative odds ratio. Consider one unemployment rate, January's 12.0% for high-school dropouts. The odds that a high school dropout in the labor market was unemployed is the probability of being unemployed divided by the probability of being employed, 12.0%/(1-12%), or about 0.14. The odds that a college graduate was unemployed in January was 0.04. The ratio of the two is 0.29 -- or a college graduate has odds of being unemployed that's a little under one-third of the odds for a high-school dropout. The closer to a relative ratio of 1, the closer the odds are and the less of a difference. A relative odds ratio of 0.29 indicates a HUGE difference.

But the $64,000 question is whether that odds ratio has changed from January 2008 to January 2009. In January 2008, the relative odds ratio was 0.26 for the BA-to-dropout comparison, 0.46 for the some-college-to-dropout comparison, and 0.58 for the high-school-grad-to-dropout comparison. Last month, the relative odds ratios were 0.29, 0.48, and 0.64, respectively. While there is greater movement for the high-school-grad-to-dropout comparison, the story here is that the employment crisis is bad for everyone and slightly compressing the attainment consequences, not expanding them, at least with regard to the official unemployment rate.

There are significant problems with the official unemployment rate, though--it excludes the "discouraged" unemployed and those not in the labor force. Unfortunately, the BLS table on alternative measures (including U-6) is not disaggregated by attainment, so I'll pick on the employment-to-population measure that's in the first table linked above. There, the odds ratios are reversed in meaning (the odds of being employed vs. the odds of being unemployed), and they hardly budge: for the high school grads to dropouts comparison, the relative odds ratio is 2.0 in January 2008 and January 2009; for the some-college to dropouts comparison, the ratio is 3.1 in both months; for the college-grad to dropouts comparison, the ratio is 4.4 in both months. Again, the cross-sectional gaps are huge, but there's no change.

I could go further into the weeds with relative probability ratios, but I'll give you a chance to stay awake and just say that they're going to have the same basic message as relative odds ratios: the job market is getting worse for everyone, and at least at a first glance, being well-educated protects you no more last month than it did a year ago.

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Posted in Education policy at 8:56 AM (Permalink) |

Easy prediction, the bad kind

When a university lays off a large proportion of its faculty (including those with tenure) when (a) the university has not declared financial exigency, (b) faculty representatives gave the administration options to address the financial problems without laying anyone off, and (c) faculty were not involved in deciding who would be laid off, it doesn't take a genius to expect an AAUP investigation.

The history of Atlanta University makes this particularly painful, and the larger context is a set of ugly circumstances around the country that will make for a lot of ugly scenes where administrators ignore faculty.

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Posted in Higher education at 7:54 AM (Permalink) |

February 7, 2009

Upcoming documentary on secret human computers

Documentary filmmaker LeAnn Ericksen is in the middle of finishing "Top Secret Rosie," about human computers in WW2 and the small group who then became among the earliest programmers. But you can view an 8-minute trailer now. Update: More (and better) from Doctor Pion.

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Posted in History at 8:48 AM (Permalink) |

February 6, 2009

Klein compares Bloomberg to Putin

No, he didn't, but at the mayoral-control hearing in Albany, according to the indefatigable Elizabeth Green,

Klein defended himself passionately, arguing that mayoral control is a democratic governance structure, not an authoritarian one, as some members painted it.

The logic here is weak: under that view, a plebiscite dictatorship is democratic because every few years the head honcho could be kicked out of office. 

I think there are multiple reasonable approaches to the policy question, such as UFT's "you need two (more) righteous people to save Gotham" proposal of giving the mayor a plurality on the main policymaking body (so the mayor and chancellor would have to convince 2 out of the other 8 members) or something that would give an independent body subpoena authority and the responsibility and right to issue reports on the schools.

But the gist is to inject public accountability beyond the one-person constituency of Joel Klein. I'm a little curious why advocates of mayoral control don't grasp the fundamental irony that you don't create accountability by removing it. There are multiple ways of addressing the messiness of urban politics, but if the appointed chancellor has spent several years ignoring parents, he's getting his natural comeuppance today.

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Posted in Education policy at 1:59 PM (Permalink) |

Getting into the weeds: when did $25 billion become the weeds??

Charles Barone has been writing about the stimulus debate with the type of detail that no one else has, at least publicly. That's the importance of having people with legislative experience who really can get deeply into the weeds. What's jaw-dropping is that the stimulus package is so large that the Senate cut of $24.8 billion from the package is in the weeds. Not much in the weeds, but your boots are going to get muck on them to look at the details. 

I think anyone who understands Keynesian macroeconomics should be shocked at what the Senate is doing with the stimulus, both the patently nutty stuff like Barbara Mikulski's suggestion for car-purchasing incentives and the proposed deletion of aid to states so that local agencies don't fire thousands of teachers, public-health workers, and the like. I'll let Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman explain the basic theory here, but spending money on people who pay taxes and spend most of what they receive is a higher stimulus bang for the buck than almost any other conceivable way of stimulating the moribund economy. As long as we are stuck in a world where the Fed's interest rate is effectively zero, monetarist approaches will be insufficient. As long as businesses and people are reluctant to spend money, tax incentives will be far less powerful than direct spending. To borrow from Jeffrey Frankel, there are no libertarians in liquidity traps and deflationary spirals. There also should be none when either is an imminent threat.

Because the House and Senate will have a conference to hash out various differences, it would be tempting to say, "Just get the Senate to approve something, and then work it out in committee." I'll let others in the blogosphere point out the political flaws in this argument, but the gist is that Senate Republicans are far more powerful than House Republicans. With both Franken and Kennedy out of the picture for now, the Democrats have a harder time getting 60 votes to stop debate. So there will be some compromise with the Republicans, and there will have to be some triage in what can be accomplished with the stimulus. The better the bill that comes out of the Senate, the easier will be the negotiating in conference.

Having said that, it's the crisis-oriented big-money issues that are or should be the priority here. If the battle in the conference committee has to be about the $25 billion cut in aid to states, the stakes are too high to focus on conditions attached to the money. That's the unfortunate truth, and I'd bet that Joel Packer and Charles Barone will find agreement here: they'd rather debate how to attach conditions to $25 billion that will save teachers' jobs and help the economy than to have to fight for the $25 billion in the first place.

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Posted in Education policy at 12:20 PM (Permalink) |

UTLA and "benchmark" or "periodic" testing

Last week, the United Teachers of Los Angeles called for the cessation of every-few-months testing in the district. The response of the district: such testing is an important tool in improving student achievement, which they know because schools with such testing have had annual-test scores higher than schools without such testing.

The flaw in the district's reasoning is left as an exercise for the reader, because I'm more concerned at the moment about what this debate shows about our attitudes towards assessment. UTLA is wrong to attack frequent testing on principle, though I think they may have a good point about this type of assessment. Such periodic assessment may help schools target assistance to students, or they may serve primarily to mimic the state test and encourage teaching to the test (the predictive success of which principals would know by results on the quarterly assessments). Without knowing more about the details, you can't say which is which, and both phenomena are possible (including in the same school).

What concerns me is the direction in which the machinery of testing is taking formative evaluation. There's a lot of research to suggest that when used to guide instruction, frequent assessment can dramatically change results. There are a number of technical questions about so-called formative assessment (or progress monitoring) that are the domains of researchers in the area: how to create material sufficiently related to key skills or the curriculum, how to create assessments where score movement is both meaningful and sensitive to change, how to gauge appropriate change, how to structure the feedback given to teachers, and so forth. My reading of the literature (which is not complete) is that the most powerful uses of formative assessment require very frequent, very short assessments--on the order of once or twice a week, and about the same length as your typical elementary-school spelling test (i.e., a few minutes at most). 

So what do we see as the evolving, bureaucratic version of formative assessment: long tests taken every few months. That's better than once a year in terms of frequency, but it's still a blunt instrument and absorbs a large chunk of time. The reason for this preference is obvious: a large, unwieldy school system can organize systematic evaluation/feedback around quarterly tests. That's doable. But organizing around something that's taken weekly and would often require data entry (e.g., a one-minute fluency score for first- and second-graders)? That's a different kettle of fish.

That doesn't mean it's impossible. It's easy, if you're a principal who's willing to devote the right resources. Consider reading fluency, for example. (I'm not saying that fluency is more important than comprehension. I just have the experience with this to imagine what I'd do as a principal.) Teach a paraprofessional to have every first- and second-grade student in the school read to them one minute a week on a sample reading passage (there are sets of roughly equivalent passages one can purchase for this purpose). Have them enter the data through a Google Docs form, a SurveyMonkey survey, or some other tool that will send the data to a spreadsheet. Get someone to program the results so that you can show data per child with trend lines and sort by grade, classroom, etc. For a few extra lines of code, you could add locally-weighted regression trends to be really fancy, but that's beside the point.

Here's the point: this is not rocket science, this does not require a gazillion-dollar software package from TestPublisher Inc., and it's very different from the type of quarterly testing that superintendents are buying into in a big way (including that gazillion-dollar software package from TestPublisher Inc.). It's very different from the quarterly testing that UTLA is protesting.

So, Ramon Cortines, here's my challenge: can you document that the quarterly-testing regime is better than the weekly-quiz-plus-trends proposal I've outlined above? The second can fit easily into the routines of any school. The second can start conversations EVERY WEEK at a school. The second is MUCH cheaper. It's also less sexy: no giant software packages manipulable from the front office, no instantly-printable pastel-colored graphs that demonstrate what kids were able to do on a test six weeks ago. You'd definitely give up the flashy for the mundane. But prove to me that the flashy is better than the mundane.

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Posted in Accountability Frankenstein at 12:05 PM (Permalink) |

More charter-school organizing

Congratulations to United Teachers Los Angeles for organizing Accelerated School. If the reporting in the story is correct, some of the same issues motivating KIPP teachers in New York to join UFT are also motivating teachers in Accelerated School: teacher turnover, teacher voice in decisionmaking. It's never all about the money. (Hat tip.)

February 5, 2009

What personality is your Performance-Pay Attitude? (and other mixed metaphors)

Since other bloggers I read have used various quizzes to spice up their entries, or maybe do something online while they're waiting for a bus, here is the all-purpose Performance-Pay Personality Quiz. Oh, wait: "personality" isn't quite appropriate here. But to mix metaphors, what personality is YOUR attitude towards performance pay?

  1. Do you think that there is ever a justification for some teachers' being paid more than others?
    • 1 point -- A paycheck is performance pay: either pay people a good wage for doing their job, or fire them for not doing it.
    • 4 points -- Some differential pay is required to encourage teachers to take hard-to-staff jobs (either by subject or school), and that's more important than merit pay.
    • 7 points -- On balance, performance pay would be a good thing, but it's not the most important thing to change in schools.
    • 10 points -- Performance pay or bust: I'll throw everything else out the window to get it!
  2. What's the most important motivation for teachers and administrators?
    • 1 point -- They love children; that's their only motivation.
    • 2 points -- Personal integrity is a more powerful motivator than salary. Teachers need salaries, but if you can show teachers how to feel better about the job they're doing (including showing them how to do a better job), you can move mountains.
    • 3 points -- Money's an important part of the picture. It's not the only thing, and seeing money as the only motivational tool would be foolish public policy, but to ignore it would be wrong.
    • 4 points -- There's nothing like money to get people's attention, and teachers are people.
  3. How important is it for education policy to encourage educators to work together?
    • 1 -- Teachers are not islands: rewarding individuals will kill the type of mentoring and sharing that's essential for professional development. Doubt me? Go ask stock-market traders who entered their career recently whether individual rewards encouraged their elders to mentor them... or spend every second on the floor trying to make a buck.
    • 2 -- Cooperation is crucial. It's not everything, since all teachers have strengths and weaknesses, and we don't want a school full of Stepford Teachers, but I worry that too much emphasis on individual recognition will discourage teachers from talking to each other, and from any chance that teachers will hold each other accountable.
    • 3 -- Teachers' talking in a lounge is like little kids' hugging each other. Often it's wonderful, but you sometimes worry what they're sharing. Individual recognition is pretty important to give credibility to the better and more professional teachers.
    • 4 -- Teacher go it alone anyway: recognizing their achievement as individuals is unlikely to harm the type of substantive collaboration that happens rarely.
  4. What is the right balance between judging teachers based on the professional judgment of peers and using student performance?
    • 1 -- Peer judgment: they're the ones who know what good teaching looks like, and what we care about is whether teachers are teaching well.
    • 2 -- Er... wouldn't peers be interested in what students are learning? Student performance should be part of the mix, as one springboard for evaluation. But peer judgment should be central.
    • 3 -- Student performance should anchor qualitative judgments of teaching. Yes, peers can judge teachers, but student performance should be central.
    • 4 -- Skip the peers. What matters is whether students are learning.
  5. How ready is the technology of testing to use in judging individual teacher and school performance?
    • 1 -- When the solid historical record of more than a century shows that people have abused tests in every decade, we should assume that tests will be misused, and it's the burden of high-stakes testing advocates to show otherwise.
    • 2 -- Tests are useful, but we're far from being sure that tests tell us what most politicians think they tell us.
    • 3 -- They're imperfect, but we need to start using test scores to judge effectiveness now because we can't wait for tests to be perfect to look at performance.
    • 4 -- They're just fine, and they have been for years.
  6. What role should collective bargaining play in education reform?
    • 1 -- Collective bargaining is crucial to protecting due process and teacher rights, and if possible to block stupid reforms.
    • 2 -- Collective bargaining is crucial to protecting due process and teacher rights, and unions can play an important part of reform.
    • 3 -- Collective bargaining is primarily an obstacle to important reform. Where unions will accept reforms, great. Where they won't, federal and state governments have powerful incentives to change the balance of power at the local level.
    • 4 -- Federal and state governments should do their best to break unions, because they do nothing good. Break them, circumvent them, discredit them with their bargaining units.
  7. What should be the ceiling in terms of paying for performance (both the total amount of money and how many teachers should be eligible)?
    • 1 -- Arguments in favor of performance pay are a cover for not wanting to pay teachers more. Those who work with children are generally underpaid, and while performance pay looks like it's in "the children's interest," in reality it's another way of being cheap.
    • 2 -- Part of my skepticism about performance pay is the assumption that only 10-25% of teachers should receive it. To these brilliant people, I ask: "Okay, suppose there's performance pay and every student meets whatever is your definition of proficiency by 2014. Does that mean you'd be willing to double teacher pay for that result, or is this an education-reform shell game?"
    • 3 -- Part of my acceptance of performance pay is looking at the numbers: there are lots of students, and it's almost impossible to staff every classroom with a brilliant and greatly-skilled teacher. So let's pay the great ones the best. "In a perfect world we'd double teacher pay" is another way of saying "never."
    • 4 -- Competition is the best way to motivate individuals, and you're going to get little competition if everyone can earn a bonus. Limit performance pay to the top slice of teachers.

Psychometrics-free labels to share with frenemies and colleagues:

7-11: You are Alfie Kohn. You'd really like the testing industry to suffer an ignominious death, and anyone who thinks that using tests will improve schooling is smoking something fairly powerful.

11-16: You are Reg Weaver. You are publicly skeptical of merit pay, you think most designed systems are going to be disasters, but you're also going to hold your nose and support teachers who decide it's in their best interests.

17-23: You are Randi Weingarten. You know that the American public is used to people making more money if they do a better job, but you're skeptical of most performance-pay plans in operation today. You think collective bargaining is the best way to moderate the more idiotic ideas surrounding teacher pay and to protect the legitimate interests of teachers and communities.

24-28: You are Thomas Toch. You're well aware of the flaws of testing and accountability systems, but you think moving in the direction of performance pay is essential, and you will trust that the system can be improved incrementally once it's started in the right direction.

29-34: You are Michelle Rhee. The day that teachers have a starkly uneven pay scale, the day that school districts fire a fifth of their teachers, and the day that unions are decertified around the country will be the day you will not only take up that Newsweek broom again but dance with it a la Fred Astaire. 

(Don't like the questions? Fine: make up your own completely unscientific spoof of internet quizzes!)

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Posted in Education policy at 6:50 PM (Permalink) |

February 1, 2009

Well, that's supremely embarrassing...

I thought I was so clever to have transferred files from my laptop to a mobile device for travel to a symposium (special education, comparative). Travel light, I thought! But my brain had been the only light thing around, evidently, because I transferred everything except the document with the hotel name and address! This is the problem with assuming that you can pack for two trips without needing a list you double-check.

Fortunately, the symposium convener and my son both had my back, the convener on his mobile and my son helping with the laptop. So I know where I'm going, and I'm at a layover wondering if I want airport food. That's a much better dilemma than wondering where I'd sleep tonight. I think I'll go for the food, since I owe the symposium my very best thoughts, fueled with ... errr. Veggie burritos? Not brain food, but obviously my brain needs some help.

Oh, yeah, and I was in the air for the entire Super Bowl, held about 10 minutes from my house. Yes, I drove around the stadium on the way to the airport, the closest I'd been to a Super Bowl since the only one I've attended (Steelers 31, Rams 19; Nolan Cromwell is still regretting that dropped interception, but there were also two beautiful touchdown passes). Apparently the Steelers won another thriller without my witnessing it. Hope the rest of you enjoyed it!

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Posted in The academic life at 4:08 PM (Permalink) |