Left Ed: Where Are the Journalists?

by: jeffbinnc

Sun Jun 06, 2010 at 16:01

The big news in the edusphere this week was the release of the final version of common core standards outlining "what experts decided are the knowledge and skills students should have in mathematics and English/language arts."

"Reformists" immediately hailed the release, some even going as far as to claim that they will help "cure" poverty.

Many states, however, expressed their reservations to immediately adopt the standards. One of the most powerful incentives for states to accept the common core standards is the Race to the Top competitive grants that Arne Duncan is dangling in front of them. States that adopt the standards increase the eligibility for RTTT funds, and no doubt, many states will rush to accept the standards for this reason alone.

I've already written extensively about my reservations with national standards. And there's certainly an array of experts who disagree with me. But I found it ironic that in the same week that one of the cogs in Arne Duncan's grand mechanism to transform public education -- national standards -- was falling into place, two more of his precious ideas were proven to be complete and utter shams.

jeffbinnc :: Left Ed: Where Are the Journalists?
One of the great promises of so-called education reformists such as Arne Duncan is that once business-style incentives and marketplace thinking are plugged into national education policy, then educators will be more apt to do "what works" for educating kids. Two key measures to creating this new utopia, we are told, are teacher merit pay and the "portfolio approach" to evaluating school performance.

Teacher merit pay, primarily in the form of linking salaries to student test scores and other "data," has been touted as a panacea for "what works for at-risk kids." The push for this notion has probably hit its high water mark this week in the announcement of an agreement between the teachers union in Washington DC and DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee to institute a "pay for performance" system of compensation based on "value added" approach to  teacher evaluation.

The business-driven "portfolio approach" to evaluating school performance is supposed to be the sure-fast way to single out lousy schools and close them down and in turn reveal what works at the best performing schools and "leverage" those ideas systemically. In the portfolio approach, "the district superintendent is imagined as a stock investor who has a portfolio of investments (schools). These schools are run by different contractors, generally as charter schools. The superintendent holds the investments that 'perform' (in terms of student achievement) and ends the contracts for (sells) those investments that 'don't perform.' The portfolio concept puts into place what has been increasingly discussed in educational policy literature as market-based 'creative destruction' or 'churn.'" This portfolio model has been implemented in several of the nation's largest school districts, including New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and post-Katrina New Orleans.

Of course, neither of these ideas has had any research base indicating they would actually work in public schools. But I guess if you're in the general mass media and you see the promises of a Billionaire Boy's Club backing up a notion, then everybody in the general media immediately accepts these notions as fact.

However, this week the inconvenient truths leaked out, at least in the edupress, that neither of these notions works in application to schools. In the case of teacher merit pay, what Arne Duncan himself hath wrought has been brought into question:

"Education Secretary Arne Duncan and all of his acolytes who are rushing to implement performance-based compensation for teachers might want to take a close look at the preliminary results from a Chicago program with this focus that was initially started when Duncan ran the city school system.
A study released today by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. shows no evidence that the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program improved student math and reading tests when compared with a group of similar schools that did not use the system, Education Week reported.
Chicago's program is a version of the national Teacher Advancement Program, or TAP, which was first implemented in Chicago in 2007-08, when Duncan led the schools.
The analysis looked at the first two years of a four-year program, which has multiple steps, including increased teacher development, and an incentive payment scheme in which teachers are paid more when their students do better on standardized test scores.
The concept ignores the fact that standardized tests in schools today were not designed as teacher assessment tools and aren't valid measures, but that isn't stopping a headlong rush into implementation in school districts across the country."

In a similar fashion to the debunking that teacher merit took this week, a new study (pdf) about the portfolio approach to school improvement revealed that evidence of its success is by and large nonexistent. The only evidence of any gains in student achievement is anecdotal, from just one place (New Orleans), and probably not credible.

So, back to the issue of a common core curriculum: Since the biggest fans of teacher merit pay and portfolio management are also strong proponents of a nationalized curriculum, shouldn't we be pretty circumspect about that proposal as well?

Shouldn't we be listening carefully to the opinions of Yong Zhao who warns that the push for national standards "risks the loss of what really matters" in education? Shouldn't the media balance the propaganda from Arne Duncan's office and DC-based thinktanks with the views of Alfie Kohn who points out that "no evidence that students in countries as diverse as ours with national standards or curricula engage in unusually deep thinking or are particularly excited about learning?" Shouldn't reporters wonder why teachers themselves, such as Susan O'Hanian, say "I think of my students as I read the Common Core, and I weep?" And shouldn't some high-paid journalist somewhere take the time to investigate the issues brought up by TruthOut's Marion Brady:

"There has been, for example, no discussion of the wisdom of standardizing knowledge in the middle of a knowledge explosion. Nor is anyone asking if the 'core' school subjects - the ones being standardized - are up to the challenges the future will bring.
No provision has been made for coordinating or prioritizing the work of the various standards-writing committees.
No one has been assigned responsibility for mediating the conflicts which will arise as the supporters of various school subjects compete for learner time and public money.
No apologies have been offered to professional educators for telling them they don't know how to do their jobs.
No one is addressing the fact that the world that school subjects try to explain is an interconnected whole that can't be understood using a random handful of disconnected school subjects.
That last problem alone - the one that helped make NCLB an intellectual farce - is reason enough to dump Race to the Top and The Common Core State Standards Initiative.
But perhaps most curious of all, is the present reform effort's disregard for deep-seated American values."

This Week's Duncehat Award: The Washington Post
One after another, education reformists dangle the shiny baubles of charter schools, teacher merit pay, and content standards before the wide eyes of mainstream journalists and chant "now repeat after me." In one such mesmerized state, the editorial board of the Washington Post recently hailed the Obama administrations effort to link teacher pay to student test scores as "breakthroughs in teacher quality."

Echoing the teacher bashing that is so now the rage in the media, the Posts' editors enthuse over anything that bucks "the fierce opposition" of teachers unions and automatically assume that linking student test scores to teacher salary and tenure is a "solution" that can "only help teachers and students. Get that: "only help." Yes, like everything else about the Washington Consensus on education, there are not two sides to this argument.

Rethinking Schools clarifies what's really at work here:

"From the time of Reagan, who used his 'welfare queen' stories to scapegoat the poor as a basis on which to destroy the welfare system, this has been a tried-and-true approach to privatization: use visceral anecdotes to whip up hysteria that a system is 'broken,' argue that only market competition can fix the situation, and then sell off pieces of the public sector to private corporations. This time, teachers are the scapegoats."

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Picking Up On Brady's Point About "disregard for deep-seated American values" (4.00 / 4)
That quote continues as follows:

But perhaps most curious of all, is the present reform effort's disregard for deep-seated American values.

With the possible exception of Australia, no other country matches America in professed admiration for the nonstandard person.

We're big on individualism, personal freedom and autonomy. We resent authority, chafe at regulation and are amused by the comedian's line, "I'm from the government and I'm here to help." We admire the Lone Ranger, the self-made man and the movie characters played by John Wayne and Clint Eastwood.

We distrust central planning and point to the history of the Soviet Union and other East Bloc countries as evidence of its dangers. We know that no two kids are alike and insist that individual differences be respected, a cultural trait we think explains why Americans have won more than their fair share of Nobels, Pulitzers, medals, patents, and other awards for scientific, artistic and athletic accomplishment.

Why, then, is there near-universal enthusiasm for national standards? Why are we destroying what little autonomy and adaptability is left in America's schools after years of battering by NCLB? Why are we ignoring educators from high-scoring but super-standardized countries who come here looking for the secret of America's intellectual productivity? Why are we putting our kids in the service of corporate interests rather than demanding that corporate interests serve our kids? When did we abandon our belief that educating wasn't about filling industry job slots, but about exploring the dimensions and potential of humanness?

This was, for quite some time, a real problem for conservatives.  On the one hand, they wanted to regiment schools for both ideological and corporate reasons. But it went against their whole states rights/demonize Washington tradition.  Took a whole lot of maneuvering over time to minimize the cognitive dissonance, and it wouldn't have taken much from progressives to blow the whole thing apart, once in a political position to do so.  Instead, of course, what we have is Obama/Duncan taking the whole package of intense contradictions and giving it a huge push to try to get it over the goal line.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

"America's culture of creativity trumps lousy test scores" (4.00 / 2)
Walt Gardner, Caution on Comparing International Education Systems

...[American] schools are known worldwide for their creativity and innovation. In the final analysis, this is our greatest strength. No test has been devised so far to measure it.

Walt Gardner, The good news about U.S. schools

The truth is that a dynamic economy is more than the sum of test scores. It is built on a culture that nurtures creative thinking, encourages risk taking, and rewards success.

Singapore's Education Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said it best in a Newsweek interview last year:

"We both have meritocracies. [America's] is a talent meritocracy; ours is an exam meritocracy. There are some parts of the intellect that we are not able to test well - like creativity, curiosity, a sense of adventure, ambition. Most of all, America has a culture of learning that challenges conventional wisdom, even if it means challenging authority. These are the areas where Singapore must learn from America."

(Singapore's students do well on international tests and so their school system, which traditionally has relied heavily on high-stakes testing, rote learning, and early tracking of students, is often held up as a model for the US to emulate.)

[ Parent ]
Well, They Put A Man On the Moon In 1897 (0.00 / 0)
Who can argue with that?

Oh?  They didn't?

Well, they did something.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Not quite on topic (0.00 / 0)
Minnesota is being denied funds for not meeting Race To The Top standard in the areas of merit pay and the monitoring and possible termination of bad teachers. The premise is that our county's problem with education is bad teachers (and teacher's unions), and that the way to improve education is to put pressure on the teachers, weed out the bad ones, and reward the good ones. Behind that is union-busting and cost-cutting.

One problem with this is that Minnesota IS the top, if it isn't Iowa or Wisconsin. It's one of the school systems that seems to be doing the job. You don't want to encourage complacency, there's always room for improvement, but the conservative rule "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" seems on target.

Within Minnesota the Republican antagonists of the school system are using the RTTT ruling as ammunition. It's really discouraging when Obama plays this game.

Well, You See (4.00 / 3)
since you're already the top, you have to be pushed downhill till you roll to the bottom.

Then you can join the "Race to the Top"!

Isn't it exciting?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
You nailed it (4.00 / 1)
This is the most useful sound bite I've seen that sums up the illogic of the attempts to privatize public education in the US.  

Of course the elephant - or donkey - in the room is the changes in our economic and social landscape wrought by the fact that people work more hours for less money than they have in several decades.  Poor people have long been aware of the relationship between time spent parenting and academic performance in childhood.      

And thanks to jeffinnc for making this complex issue more accessible to concerned people like me who don't have enough time to sift through the voluminous literature in order to stay somewhat reasonably well-informed.

[ Parent ]
I just say "Vow !" for your pointed comments. (0.00 / 0)

[ Parent ]
More about the situation in Minnesota (4.00 / 1)
Minnesota is one of the states with the most charter schools, if I recall correctly. So it's a pretty good place to look for the results of what charter schools really produce for kids. Well, the results aren't so pretty:
"According to the Minnesota Department of Education, charter schools are seven times more likely to be failing in the state than regular public schools."

(emphasis not added)

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
How does that data look (0.00 / 0)
when it's analyzed district-by-district and according to the economic background of students?  

I'm not defending charter schools: quite the opposite.  But I tend to think such a large disparity involves more than charter schools alone.  

[ Parent ]
That's a good question (0.00 / 0)
and the diary I linked to doesn't really go into the demographics of the situation. However, if you didn't click through to read the whole diary you missed this gem about a charter school meant to "run like a business":
"What does it look like when business leaders get what they want in education policy? Mike Mosedale wrote a story in the 2005 City Pages assessing the new charter school that thought like a business:

Q: What Happens When You Run a School Like a Business?
A: You Go Broke.

The students learned how to sit in cubicles and write memos. The staff learned how to ask for a bailout.

Mosedale reported that (emphasis added):

Laura Mirsch, who graduated from the school with honors in 2004, says the MBA's problems were never strictly financial. She thinks arrogance and inexperience on the part of some of the MBA's founders played a large role, too. "Basically, it was run by a bunch of businesspeople who thought they knew more about education than public educators," Mirsch says.

When Mirsch arrived as a freshman, she recalls, the students were each shown to a personal cubicle with a computer and a phone. The idea--that kids would learn well in a businesslike setting--didn't mesh with the reality of lightly supervised 14-year-olds left to their own devices. "It was total bedlam," Mirsch remembers. "You were supposed to do your work in the cube, but a lot of the kids were making prank calls and screwing around all the time."'

Huh - I can't imagine why that didn't work."

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Thanks for the article tip. (0.00 / 0)
And boy, you sent me to a gem of blog for matters in my state.I wasn't aware of this. I read print edition of City Pages and they do lots of good in-depth reporting.  

[ Parent ]
Privatization (4.00 / 1)
The idea of privatization is that privatized schools (clinics, etc.) will be more efficient, less wasteful, more responsive, and more innovative than bureaucratic government operations. I worked for an inefficient, featherbedded government operation for quite awhile and the argument has initial plausibility for me.

But the kinds of things government usually does are hard to put on the market. It's not like you can put units of education or units of health on the shelves for buyers to select from. And the "buyers" are not the students, but sometimes the parents and sometimes government agencies (contracting out).

An argument against contracting out and privatization I've rarely seen, but which strikes me as powerful is: "If an inefficient government agency can't run a school, how can it contract a school out?" The same kinds of arguments proving that government run schools will be inefficient and bad also prove that government bureaucrats will always get skinned when negotiating with contractors (and that's even without bribes and job offers.) The incentive structure for a contracting-out bureaucrat would be hard to structure in a way to reward effective contacting-out, regulation, evaluation, supervision, etc.

So when an entrepreneur comes by to fatten up on the government, the road is clear. And a lot of the entrepreneurs are fly-by-nights who are perfectly happy if the pull in the bucks for two or three years and then fail.

[ Parent ]
Public services (4.00 / 1)
Government tends to provide services where the output is hard to measure. What's the output of the US Navy, or a local police department, or a school? Very difficult to quantify.

If you can't easily quantify the output, then you can't put a price on it and the market doesn't work very well. The measures we do have tend to be very imperfect measures of what we want out of the system.

Imagine, for example, contracting out the functions of a police department. How would you pay the provider? By number of cases solved? That would create some pretty lousy incentives, since ideally you want a police force to prevent crimes, not just solve ones that already happened. But how do you measure number of crimes prevented - events that never happened? It's impossible.

There's a similar argument for education, where paying teachers based on students' test scores (which to date are only very imperfect measures of what we want out of an education system) may provide incentives to teach to tests and ignore non-tested material.

In many cases we end up paying by input (fee-for-service in medicine, or paying teachers based on seniority or degrees held), but the incentive problems here can be pretty severe too (rising health care costs, for example).

This does help explain why we have to be careful in comparing the private to the public sectors in terms of efficient production. It's wrong to look at the things the market does most efficiently and conclude that the market is therefore always more efficient at producing any kind of service. The things that markets do most efficiently tend not to suffer from fundamental informational asymmetries like unmeasurable output. Where such major market failures do exist, public provision will often be superior to private provision because of the perverse incentives created by setting prices based on imperfect output measures.  


[ Parent ]
There's also the issue of external costs. (4.00 / 3)
Of course the best way for a market-based system for public education to maximize return on investment is to eliminate the costliest kids -- children of poverty, kids whose first language isn't English, students with learning disabilities -- from the system. But then of course the external costs of leaving the rest of society to deal with these children -- through the criminal justice system and social welfare -- is never "charged" to the market-based school system that externalized these kids. As you say, the market-based approach is inherently inefficient for the purpose of education.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Externalities (0.00 / 0)
Right. Externalities and public goods (uncompensated costs and/or un-captured benefits of providing a good or service) are of course important kinds of market failures too. They justify a public subsidy (or tax in the case of a negative externality), but not necessarily public provision of a service. I think what drives the need for public provision is primarily the unobservable output problem.

[ Parent ]
Inefficient, featherbedded corporations (0.00 / 0)
I've been in inefficient, featherbedded corporations, too.  If you want to talk about massive, massive waste of resources go to the top of any major company and take a ride in one of the jets.

People are people and organizations are organizations.  The difference is whether the public owns and benefits from the resources, or a few plutocrats own and benefit.  That's all.

When the public owns and benefits I think they tend to take better care of things, -- the Gulf is today's example.


Seeing The Forest -- Who is our economy FOR, anyway? Twitter: dcjohnson

[ Parent ]
Teacher Bashing... (4.00 / 5)
is in vogue right now to be certain, but is always been present to some extent. Then people wonder why the people don't see teaching as a desirable profession.

I don't remember anyone asking my cousin why he wanted to be a lawyer or complaining about the salary he makes. But I sure got asked why I'd want to go into teaching. "Better you than me!" or "I'd kill the kids" was the general rejoinder I got to any response I'd provide. I remember having to work two jobs most of my career - but at least I was making a difference I was told. Until I finally started earning a decent living after nearly two decades. "Must be nice..." became the rejoinder then.

My standard response: If you think you can do it, get your degree, pass your certification test(s) and get a teaching certificate. Once you've finished this easy stuff, then prove you can hang with 125-150 kids a day (and their parents), get them all on the same page, learning at the same pace, and all the while developing their love of learning. Class after class. Day after day. Year after year. Got what it takes? Go ahead. I'll wait.

What people don't realize is that the abuse of the teaching profession is both  pathological and cumulative. IMO it contributes to teachers becoming disillusioned, burned out and less likely to maintain the passion that put them in front of the classroom where they could contribute in real ways to their student's futures in the first place.

If teaching is so easy, then by all means get your degree, pass your certification test(s), get your license, and see if you can last longer than the five years in the classroom 50% of those who enter the profession never make it to.

It's a shame (0.00 / 0)
the way our society treats teachers. And the fact that politicians -- some of the lowest of the low -- are complicit in this disgrace is an outrage. Are any other public employees -- soldiers, cops, firefighters, or sanitation workers routinely insulted by our political leaders in the way teachers are? Of course not. Thanks so much for your service and your dedication to making a positive difference for your community and its children and youth.  

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Thanks (0.00 / 0)
to you too for putting together these posts.

Soldiers, cops, firefighters = Heros
Teachers = ?

If teaching is so easy, then by all means get your degree, pass your certification test(s), get your license, and see if you can last longer than the five years in the classroom 50% of those who enter the profession never make it to.

[ Parent ]
Somewhere I read that Wall Street capand their kleptocrat buddies (0.00 / 0)
need more avenues to shore up their dwindling profits (at least by Wall street standards which is a parallel universe to where most of us live). So, they are setting their sights on public ed and social security.  

Oops , meant to say "Wall street capitalists and their kleptocrat (0.00 / 0)
Boy, I get teabaggy time & again and commit typo errors when commenting on the blogs. Don't know when I am going to learn.  

[ Parent ]
Last I looked (0.00 / 0)
education stocks were returning at a 28% clip. Not too bad.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
You want to where the journalists are? Well, they are out there (4.00 / 1)
obsessing over whether Obama cries/kicks & screams over the BP oil spill or Tiger Woods and the balloon boy. What did you think? That they are going to talk about the kleptocracy that is the USA?

Most important (4.00 / 2)
I was reading one of the obituaries of the recently departed John Wooden.  And there it was, right up front.  Wooden stated that the most important people in our society are teachers.  My galacticly stupid and incompetent Governor, Chris Christie, pounds away every day that the most overpaid, least worth while people in the state are teachers.  

Christie says he's preserving the state when he is doing more to ruin it than any other individual in the last hundred years.  He is incredible stupid and serves the rich while appealing to the least educated loud mouths.  Wooden said he learned how to coach by teaching high school English, especially Shakespeare.  Beyond his 10 national championships and four undefeated seasons he did a better job of teaching life than basketball. Everything looked simple but had layers of depth.  Depth that could be built on for life.

I'll go with the opinion of the giant and not the opinion of the creep.  

Right on! n/t (0.00 / 0)

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
That's important to point out (4.00 / 2)
He's universally respected by people who don't pay attention to the broader dynamics of this issue.  The teachers' union would be well served to contact his estate and incorporate him into an ad campaign.  

[ Parent ]

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