Left Ed: Waiting for Sanity

by: jeffbinnc

Fri Sep 24, 2010 at 13:15

As the massive propaganda campaign against American public education rolled out this week, I was immediately struck dumbfound at how so many of the elitist crowd who send their children to private school, such as "Waiting for Superman" director Davis Guggenheim, convey their heartfelt angst over the mythical "failure in American education." Although I've yet to see Guggenheim's film, I'm totally puzzled as to why he would be so emotionally absorbed by an institution that  he has deliberately held at arm's length. And I'm reluctant to take much stock in NBC's "in-depth conversation" about education that has largely excluded public school educators from the center of the discussion.

So instead of focusing on all the media insanity this week, I found more interest in three other items that to me had a more sane and sensible viewpoint on school improvement.

The first, was the release of a new study by Reading Is Fundamental, Inc., the oldest and largest children's and family nonprofit literacy organization in the United States. The study, available from a link at Valerie Strauss's The Answer Sheet blog, reveals that something very simple - access to printed reading materials at an early age - can have profound effects on the literacy achievement of children.

jeffbinnc :: Left Ed: Waiting for Sanity
That an organization whose mission is to distribute books and reading programs to children would reveal these findings is, as Strauss explains in an editorial note, "not surprising." But I'm struck by how all the handwringing in the general media about the need for more complicated and expensive testing and massive charter school build-ups totally ignores some of the simple, and relatively inexpensive, improvements that are so easily at hand.

Giving kids books and libraries, ensuring they have something nutritious to eat, and making their schools safe and supportive havens are among many of the commonplace factors that get ignored by all this fascination with bright, shiny "reform."

The second item that got my attention this week was a report in Education Week that "the most rigorous study of performance-based teacher compensation ever conducted in the United States shows that a nationally watched bonus-pay system had no overall impact on student achievement." As noted here on OpenLeft by VLazlo in a Quick Hit, the study showed that "offering middle-school math teachers bonuses up to $15,000 did not produce gains in student test scores."

Teacher merit pay is a cornerstone of the Obama administration's education policy and a qualifier for competitive grant funding. And proponents of education "reform" have long promoted the idea of "structural incentives" as a key to improving schools. So how was the news of this study taken among that crowd?

In a pre-emptive strike against the study, school reform enthusiast Frederick Hess states that the merit pay evaluation not only tells us "nothing," but that it's terribly misleading. His argument against using the study's data is basically to argue against the idea of using data as the basis for any kind of decision. "Educators," he claims, "should be wary of allowing data or research to substitute for good judgment."

Well, according to Hess' "judgment,"

"rethinking teacher pay can help us reshape the profession to make it more attractive to talented candidates, more adept at using specialization, more rewarding for accomplished professionals, and a better fit for the twenty-first century labor force."

But according to many educators' judgment, "rethinking teacher pay" will do nothing of the sort because "pay" is not the primary factor that brings most educators into the profession in the first place, it's not the primary incentive that convinces them to stay longer, and it does not improve their relationships with their colleagues and their communities. Maybe Hess can't allow this simple reality to exist within his sphere of "judgment" because he's not an educator?

I agree with Mathew Di Carlo's take on on the merit pay study over at Shankerblog:

" Let's be honest: Those who criticize current teacher compensation systems argue that the primary factors in these systems (experience and education) are not related to teachers' ability to boost test scores. For these people, performance incentives should, at least in part, be judged by the same standard - whether they improve scores. They don't."

Despite this obvious conclusion, however, what we can expect from the "reformy" crowd's reaction to this new news about the inefficiency of teacher merit pay is a concerted effort to change the subject, as they did when studies came out showing that charter schools aren't all that good at improving achievement either.

Which brings me to my third item, which is related to charter schools. School reformists and the Obama administration would have us believe that charter schools are essential to educational progress because they are incubators of innovation. But here again, their thinking is further reflective of the cognitive dissonance of school reform. Just as standardization and high-stakes testing won't likely create "innovation," charter schools won't either because most of them are being created to perpetuate old ideas about the factory approach to school (google: KIPP, SLANT). Or they're being created mostly to make money.

In a great guest-post at WaPo's The Answer Sheet, veteran educator Marion Brady explains, "I've yet to actually see something happening in a charter that couldn't be happening in a traditional public school," and she describes four reasons why the whole idea of charter schools creating "innovation" is a sham:
1. Most of the people who are creating charter schools are people who aren't motivated by innovation.
2. The goals of most charter school organizations are primarily to create chains of "McCharter" franchise schools that enforce standardization for the sake of profit.
3. Most of the entities approving charter schools don't know very much about education.
4. Subject matter standards and high-stakes testing doom even the most well-intentioned charter to failure.

"The charter school movement," she concludes, "has been billed and sold as a strategy for strengthening public education via experimentation and innovation. What it's done instead is remind us of the ubiquity of the Law of Unintended Consequences."

What these three items suggest to me is that in all likelihood approaches to school improvement that are simpler and more likely to work are actually even more immediate and at hand, and that the fascination with the more complex "structural changes" being touted in the mainstream media is more likely to get us nowhere. Am I insane to expect anyone else to get that?

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So if I understand him correctly Hess's logic is (4.00 / 1)
that we should be wary of allowing data to substitute for our good judgment that we ought to reward teachers with merit pay determining which teachers to reward by using student test data?

Educate, Agitate, Organize, Mobilize, Act!

Exactly! (4.00 / 1)
Teachers can't be trusted to have such good judgment.  At best they are only low level managers.  Pfff.  No, only Upper Management has that kind of good judgment.

[ Parent ]
Merit Pay (4.00 / 1)
The only reason left for merit pay is the assumption it is easier to attract the best into teaching if you pay by merit.  Perhaps.  

But supporters need to ask themselves this: does the "reform" movement overall encourage our best to become teachers or discourage it?  The answer seems pretty obvious to me.

Who would want to become a teacher in this environment?

Fact check, pls. (0.00 / 0)
How high is the salary including merit pay, actually? How does this fare in comparison with other jobs that require a comparable qualification and skill?

[ Parent ]
Thx! (0.00 / 0)
Not quite what I asked for, which would have been a comparison with other US professions, but still very informative.
Hmm, since there's a debate here every other day, too, about the not so great scores of German students in international comparisons, this really leaves me wondering: I understand Arne Duncan and Michelle Rhee argue that Germany only has to pay her teachers 40% less to get an education as good as in Finland?  

[ Parent ]
You know, I thought when we got a Democrat (4.00 / 3)
in the WH, we'd start with the simple things, like books and school supplies.  Never in a million years did I think Democrats would adopt an education policy to the right of George Bush.  I remember hearing Bill Clinton talk about sometimes the best solutions for problems are also the cheapest ones, like combatting malaria with mosquito nets.  Well, books and school supplies are a whole lot cheaper than funding the charter movement.  Honestly, who is going to want to go into teaching now that we have an education policy centered on weakening unions?  Did weakening construction and manufacturing unions bring higher caliber people to those professions?  I don't think so.  

A little OT, but I am just fuming that the people who attended the opening of Waiting for Superman applauded Rhee's hyperbole.  To assume DC voters don't know what is best for their community and their children is either racist, classist, or both.  And, for Arne Duncan to pressure Gray to retain Rhee despite an election that was very much a referndum on her perfomance, has to be one of the biggest FU's to the will of the voters I have ever seen.  

I am surprised more liberal leaning blogs have not really covered the Obama admins education approach.  It seems liberals had much to say about GWB's NCLB.  Thanks so much for your continued coverage of the ed. issue.

"Fully Fund NCLB" (4.00 / 1)
Actually, all (ones I remember, at least) the Democrats from Kerry on pledged to "fully fund NCLB".  Turns out we should have slammed them for that instead of embracing it.

I know I've been late to party on this issue, despite my hatred for high-stakes testing.

[ Parent ]
About "Waiting for Superman" (4.00 / 2)
The film is NOT anti-teacher. How do I know? Joel Klein, the Chancellor of NYC Department of Education told me so. His featured post at Huffington Post


"Superman is not anti-teacher" Klein tells us. And he knows. Although teachers remain almost universally supportive of their union, Klein is able to pinpoint the problem:
Despite the recent study showing the merit pay movement is without merit, Klein finds the fault studies to the contrary notwithstanding:
"So why are they able to get better results? The number one reason is because they are not bound by legions of micro-managing regulations, including those contained in today's typical teachers' union contract. "
"And it reminds us all that our job is to give voice to the voiceless and the powerless kids that are currently being denied the education they need and deserve. Because, let's face it--they can't afford union dues. "

Who is Joel Klein?
"In 1998, before Klein became Chancellor, the New York City Board of Education transferred responsibility for school safety to the New York City Police Department.[5]  Klein has been criticized for not seeking to alter this arrangement or to curb the conduct of the Police Department's school safety agents in the face of allegations of abuse"

"In 2005, Klein fired Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi from the teacher training program, reportedly because of Khalidi's political views.[9]  After the controversial decision, Columbia University president Lee Bollinger spoke out on Khalidi's behalf, writing: "The department's decision to dismiss Professor Khalidi from the program was wrong and violates First Amendment  principles... The decision was based solely on his purported political views and was made without any consultation and apparently without any review of the facts."[9]  The program's creator Mark Willner stated that (Khalidi) "spoke on geography and demography," and that "There was nothing controversial, nothing political."[9]"

"Klein is married to Nicole Seligman, General Counsel to Howard Stringer of Sony Corp. Seligman represented former President Bill Clinton during impeachment proceedings in the United States Senate. Klein is rumored to aspire to succeed Bloomberg as Mayor of the City of New York."

In other words Joel Klein is just another Democratic Party honcho. (He IS that!). Just another reason to feel "good" about the party of the people.

Some commentary on the good Democrat:

Praise from the right: "Though a Democrat and former Clinton Administration official, Joel Klein clearly isn't your average establishment type.  He has taken on the teachers' unions to defend charter schools, sought to cut non-teaching substitutes lingering after one year, taken on the infamous rubber rooms, and even earned the Left's ire by canning an anti-Israel academic.

Such independence from established leaders within the bureaucracy is a breath of fresh air.  With educators like these, we just might fix America's public schools yet."

From the teachers:
"But mostly it's that anyone who pays attention knows what Klein would do if he had his druthers.  For years, he's been complaining about tenure, seniority, and pay steps.  Everyone knows he'd do away with all three in a heartbeat.  Teachers would then be at-will employees, subject to being fired for any reason, or indeed no reason.  Raises would come at the discretion of Klein and his minions, who have been consistently hostile to teachers.  We'd be like a bunch of waitresses at a diner, hoping for tips.

In DC, we can see the results of "empowering" autocratic administrators like Michelle Rhee--apparently talented teachers fired at the whims of her staff.  In the test-prep factories these short-sighted tinhorn dictators envision for our children, love of learning is valued not at all.  Inconvenient personalities are dumped by the wayside and no respect whatsoever is given to wisdom or individuality.

Of course you need not travel to DC to find such thinking at work.  Right here in NY, the Merrick Charter School, facing unionization, simply fired rabble rousers who wanted to unionize.  UFT President Michael Mulgrew says he'll sue if he can prove that's why they did it.  Of course, Mulgrew sued to prevent the closure of schools, won, and then allowed Joel Klein to muscle his new schools into the "saved" buildings even as the incoming classes were so small the schools were clearly being phased out.  Klein clearly respects the court no more than Mayor Bloomberg does."

hey V, its not a discussion when you erase comments (0.00 / 0)
its not democratic, its not productive

please, stop troll rating comments you disagree with,

even comments that raise your ire, even ones that make you angry


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
House, I think that particular comment you made (0.00 / 0)
actually deserved a troll rating. It had no content other than to abuse Shainzona. I actually wasn't particularly angry about it but I have noticed you becoming increasingly unhinged as the election nears. You are increasingly abusive...are you aware of this? It is not healthy for you or your audience, so try not to lose it. Some of us just have a different view of the elections and  the critical importance of voting Democratic. We can discuss it, but resorting to abuse does not win over anybody.

[ Parent ]
BTW, I didn't erase any comment of yours or anyone else, (0.00 / 0)
not now, not ever. Do you literally mean "erase the comment" or did you mean metaphorically? One reason I think you are getting overheated is increasingly I do not understand (literally) your comments or their context. So I've been trying to avoid engaging with you, even though I sense we have many goals in common. Maybe.

[ Parent ]
Yes you did, it is erased, thats is what troll rating does. (0.00 / 0)
The comment is erased.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
OK. Unless you think your comment was so important what's the big deal? (0.00 / 0)
BTW. Your comment shows up on my screen as

"[hidden comment]    No just go ahead and vote republican shain   (0.00 / 2)"

This was all I saw when I rated your comment a troll comment because among other things, you already know Shainzona intends to vote NOTA (none of the above) because he/she posts it on every comment and has repeatedly said that was his/her intention. I don't understand what the problem is. Did your post have more than just this childish and uncalled for name-calling? If so, I never saw it. I understand you are very aroused and intense, and I really try not to react too much when you say something which is unfair or uncalled for. I think you are well-intentioned. But I don't think getting into a name-calling argument is very productive.  

[ Parent ]
Actually, I think Shainzona is feminine. (0.00 / 0)
I believe one of the posts she referred to her husband. Sorry I had forgotten that.

[ Parent ]
House, since it upset you so much, I changed my rating on your post. (0.00 / 0)
I would appreciate an explanation of your post though. How do you justify your comment?

[ Parent ]
I will write a post. (0.00 / 0)
But as Paul Rosenberg has said, there is a real consequence, and no analysis, in the "missing one step" plan for transformative change in attacking "all" Democrats.

The consequence for actual human lives, actual environmental threat, actual increased chances for war, actual ending of thew growth of progressives inside the democratic party when leaving the step between:

1. destroy the democratic party
3. Real transforming Change!

I would love, as I said in response to your anger at an earlier attempt to reiterate PR's point about the lack of analysis, the lack of a plan, and what I have called "tactics that are indistinguishable from Karl Rove's"

and by indestinguishable I mean the same goal, the same tactic, the same endpoint and the same audience, and not just a comparison of the mortality of the action.

If you think PR loves Obama, thinks his goals are wonderful, appreciates his plans or approves of his morality, you haben't been reading him.

Yet he calls bs on the idea that a blanket denunciation of all dems, or wishing for the defeat of any random dems, or many dems is anything but a huge step backwards, a huge gift to evil, an abdication of the hard work it takes to make change. because hard it is, and if it does not involve the day in day out door to door to door discussion and involvement of ordinary people living their ordinary lives solving with their ideas the problems of their own lives, then it is doomed to complete failure.

Being angry, striking out, hurting whomever you(one) group as responsible is understandable, but futile and self defeating.

I would be happy to discuss step 2, convinced I must say that step will be abandoned in the process, but not insistent in advance, because I want step 3.

thats it as an introduction,

but in closing, if you said, here's how we defeat Hoyer, or Baucus and not even by proggy, I'd be willing to listen, and not become strident, or angry or sarcastic.

But when it is suggested that giving people, crazy, nasty, hypocritical hate filled greedopaths absolute power after they have proved they have no intention of ever loosing an election again, I am angry, very angry, and the sarcasm I exhibit is self control.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
BTW, to see the erasure logout (0.00 / 0)
and you will note that your comment is gone too.

And all the other comments on the 'hidden' comment. The entire thread is deleted.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
listen. you do need to grow up a little. (0.00 / 0)
this is truly pathetic. if you are just going to keep justifying your childish antics, then do not cry over people replying in kind (for example rating troll behavior as troll behavior) you wrote nothing above that justifies your inane, asinine, troll-like comment to Shainzona. What you wrote instead was an account of how you view things. (and brought in Rosenberg to appeal for his intellectual authority). Do grow up. You may believe whatever you want and take Rosenberg, or Bowers, or Lux or whomever you wish to be your thinkers-in-kind. i think other ideas are more relevant and deeper. No matter. You just don't have the right to shit all over another poster because you have a fever.  

[ Parent ]
since you like Rosenberg's post so very much. (0.00 / 0)
and presumably because of item 2 in the Rosenberg South Park analysis. Why don't you tell me how you are fulfilling item 2. Which para-party institutions are you building (or Rosenberg for that matter)?

[ Parent ]
I use it as an example of an article that discusses why merely wishing for dem (0.00 / 0)
defeat is no different than voting for republicans.

I don't cite it because i think we should be involved in doing of the like, but missing a step, just that the lack of analysis shown in the stepless drive to underpants profit is misguided. So misguided as to be indistinguishable from Rovian dirty tricks.

If you can't tell whether the advice comes from Karl Rove or not, its the wrong advice.

Thats rule one.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Are you capable of discursive argument? (0.00 / 0)
inane, asinine, childish antics
I am more than a little surprised that you stoop, not just quickly, but solely to insults.

If you can't make an argument I will leave off, but if you can, please try.

If you have a point, other than increasing the number of republicans elected, I'd love to know it.

If you have a plan that doesnt just do that, I'd love to hear it.

The none of the above tea bagger scheme is counter-productive to everything discussed on openleft.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
There is a movie coming, giving our side of the story : (4.00 / 2)

I am going to save my money , not watch Duperman but watch this one.

Reading is Fundamental Study (4.00 / 2)
Hi Jeff

People talk about how schools used to turn out students
who were much more literate than students of today.
But I don't think it was because schools were so much
better than they are today. Instead it is because,
before TV, children got most of their entertainment from
reading (i.e. lots and lots of reading practice
outside of school).

Nowadays comic books are mostly read my adults and young
adults, but back in the 1930's, 40's and early 1950's the
comic book industry was huge and geared towards children.
Kids loved comics and spent their allowance and paper route
money on buying comics, then as they outgrew comics they
easily moved on to novels.


Once TV spread to almost every home in America, the
comic book industry collapsed. Comic books, stories
and novels have a very hard time competing with television,
and gradually the percentage of Americans who are
highly literate has fallen.

Poor kids usually don't have access to books they can
fall in love with. And even a lot of middle-class
and upper-class homes do not have appropriate books
because the parents have no idea that having books
that their kids love is very important to their
future success in school.

Thank you for helping to spread the word!


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