Monday, November 14, 2011

We Need Reform, Not Revenge

If you wanted to reform the legal system, you would probably want to speak to attorneys.
If you wanted to reform the way that sports leagues address the problem of concussions, you would want to speak to coaches and players.
If you were interested in reforming medicine, you'd probably want to speak to doctors and nurses.

But those who want to change the education system want nothing to do with teachers. Pretend-reform governors such as Chris Christie (NJ), Scott Walker (WI) and Rick Scott (FL), entrepreneurs such as Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, and politicians including President Obama all believe that they know more about how to improve the public education system in the United States than professional educators who are working with students on a day-to-day basis to educate them and provide them with life skills.

And the public seems to endorse this approach.

As a 27 year veteran of the classroom, I can tell you that what's been done so far: taking away teachers' collective bargaining rights, reducing teacher pay in the name of economic fairness, and attacking the unions that have, until recently, enabled teachers to become solid members of the middle class and protected them against political and personal retribution, has been a miserable failure. Those actions have produced nothing that even remotely improves education or that will attract the best teachers to the nation's classrooms.

But that's exactly what these amateurs want. They want to destroy the last vestiges of powerful unions that will stand up to their lie that only the free market and charter schools can provide a quality education for all children. They don't understand that forcing teachers to compete for scarce educational resources and pay will obliterate the cooperative environment that is the cornerstone of every effective school. And they are wrong, in every sense of that word, when they say that the true measure of a teacher's value is based on student test scores. More absurdly, in Florida, the formula for determining a teacher's value is so confusing that even a member of the state committee tasked with developing it abstained from a vote because she didn’t understand it.

Educational reform must be supported by data and studies that show what actually works in the classroom. That's what's largely missing from those who purport to want to improve schools. If they looked at studies, they would find that:

"We tested the most basic and foundational question related to performance incentives - Does bonus pay alone improve student outcomes? - and we found that it does not," Matthew Springer, executive director of the National Center on Performance Incentives, said. "These findings should raise the level of the debate to test more nuanced solutions, many of which are being implemented now across the country, to reform teacher compensation and improve student achievement."

In the report, “How New York City’s Charter Schools Affect Achievement,” Stanford
University professor Caroline Hoxby and her colleagues Sonali Murarka and Jenny Kang probe
the academic achievement of 30,000 New York City students who had applied to charter schools
and had been randomly separated by lotteries into charter schools (the “lotteried-in” students) and
traditional schools (the “lotteried-out” students).

Hoxby and her colleagues made the headline-grabbing assertion that, on average, for students that
attended from kindergarten through grade eight, New York City charter schools could close the
“Scarsdale-Harlem gap”—that is, the achievement gap between students in Harlem and students in
the much more affluent suburb of Scarsdale—by 66 percent in English and 86 percent in math. This
is a shocking finding that, if true, would suggest that charters could be a magic bullet after all. But
Hoxby’s colleague at Stanford, Sean Reardon, the education researcher and expert in social sciences
methodology, scrutinized Hoxby’s report and uncovered serious design flaws in the study.4 Reardon’s
analysis largely undercuts the claims of dramatic gains that have attracted so much media

Take a look at any of the videos on the page, or peruse page 17 of this article.

At the New Jersey Education Association Convention this past Friday, Acting N.J. Commissioner of Education Christopher Cerf spoke to the assembled teachers and repeated the greatest falsehood these non-educators believe: that research shows effective teachers are the single largest factor in student success.

It has become conventional in educational policy discussion to assert that “research shows” that “teachers are the most important influence on student achievement.” There is, in fact, no serious research that shows any such thing.

I have posted on the Economic Policy Institute website an analysis of this claim, showing that it is not an accurate reflection of the president’s view, nor is it accurate on its own terms. I won’t repeat all the details here, but invite readers who are interested to read the analysis in its entirety 

Since their goal is not real reform, but rather, an overthrow of teachers' rights to have a say in the curriculum, working conditions, salaries, and school policies, the politicians and wealthy business people who are driving this movement don't need hard data. They only need money and a platform. Unfortunately, at this time in our nation's history, they have both.

So, as usual, it's time for educators and real reformers to take charge of the debate. Spread the word about thoughtful, meaningful reform using the facts. Ignorance and money are our most potent adversaries.

Join the discussion at

1 comment:

  1. I don't think the issue is merit pay as much as it is how to determine it. Again and again, the student's (and parents') role in the success of the student is virtually ignored, especially at the high school level. To wit:

    Food for thought: