|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?