Monday, February 28, 2011

Wisconsin Voters Want a Do Over

"[I]f voters in the state could do it over today they'd support defeated Democratic nominee Tom Barrett over Scott Walker by a a 52-45 margin." I think the same would be true in Ohio.

How Ohio’s budget battle could decide who wins the White House in 2012

That possibility is making some of Kasich’s Republican colleagues uneasy. Last week, The Columbus Dispatch spoke to eight state GOP senators who either “would not express support for the bill or have stated varying degrees of discomfort with it.” Bill Seitz of Cincinnati is one of them. “We need to be careful that we do not turn this into an overreaching effort that jeopardizes our chances,” he tells Newsweek. “We have a history in Ohio, when the legislature overreaches and the public snaps back, you end up losing everything. I would prefer a more consultative process.”

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Stop Vilifying Teachers

I think we need to hear more messages like this right now to try to counter the recent rhetoric:

Saturday, February 26, 2011

A Plea for a Participatory Democratic Process

I am advocating for making changes based on careful deliberation and consideration of the facts and available research on the implications of any proposed changes. I think the process for passing Ohio Senate Bill 5 should be participatory where all of the stakeholders and individuals affected should be given time to have their voice heard. In Ohio, we have many freshman legislators who recently finished a campaign and who are being confronted by a lot of difficult public policy decisions that require processing an enormous amount of data and research. Ohio Senate Bill 5 proposes that all salaries be merit-based. I would like to have more clarification on that system. I would like a guarantee that the merit system for public school teachers is ultimately up to the local school district—not dictated by the State Department of Administrations. I think that we still need to be more explicit on these considerations and the implications of any proposed changes. And I am ultimately not convinced that merit pay for public service will work effectively and efficiently.

Many have not supported the process undertaken to pass Ohio Senate Bill 5. Many believe that there should be explicit provisions to protect local control of Ohio schools. Many believe that we need more explicit details for how merit pay will be determined and what that system will look like. The current process has left many teachers, police officers, and fire fighters feeling like the current political leadership is against them, not for them. The implication of the communication from the current Ohio political leadership is that the state is crippled by ineffective public servants who are so greedy that they are willing to bankrupt their local communities and the state as a whole. The tone of much of the communication has been disrespectful and characterized by disdain for public servants. This tone of communication and belief has filtered down to many people. I can understand people recognizing the need to cut costs and balance budgets. I can understand people who want to send their children to good schools. I can support discussions of equitable compensation for public sector employees verses private sector workers. Those are reasonable discussions that we should have. However, if public servants of this state do not feel supported and respected by the current political leadership, they will feel that they have no choice but to look to other state and national organizations for help. The process has antagonized the many public workers who identify themselves as Republicans--maybe forever. The current political leadership of the state could have utilized a more participatory and democratic approach to reforming the system. Instead, it appears that they have desired to fast-track legislation that has vast implications for how the state operates. I am not opposed to change. But I am opposed to change enacted for political expediency at the expense of sound public policy procedures. I don’t feel that enough time has been given yet to researching and discussing the issue. I understand that there are time constraints on budgets, but I hope that we don’t push some piece of legislation quickly through in the interest of short-term political expediency at the expense of good public policy.

Clarification Needed

Whenever a group of legislators attempts to “fast-track” a bill we should all question why. I know that some people feel this is to ease budget problems. But I think this bill has implications beyond the budget that need to be considered. I support fiscal responsibility. Adjusting compensation to current market conditions only makes sense. Specifically, adjustments to retirement benefits and salaries have been made in many cases across the state. That is certainly part of the answer to the budget problems. Ohio Senate Bill 5 does more than that, however. The implication of it is that it will change the ways schools operate and how administration officials relate to employees. Those changes could potentially be good or they could potentially be very bad. My concern is that those changes are not even specified to determine whether they will be effective or ineffective. Whatever measures are used to determine compensation, will determine the focus of teachers and administrators. I want to know who is in charge of determining of those measures. And I want to know what those measures are. If they are simply going to try to rely on state standardized tests, I have a problem with that. This will have a chilling effect on creativity, collaboration, innovation, discussion, and a variety of other valuable educational activities. It may give us some idea of student achievement, but I don’t think it gives us a valid and reliable measure of teacher quality, teacher performance and teacher effectiveness. I cannot support something blindly without knowing what I am supporting. The current system at least provides structure and everybody knows it. Replacing it with the word “merit” and something about the Department of Administration Services and not filling in the details is not enough for me.

The Teaching Penalty: Teacher Pay Losing Ground

"An analysis of the weekly earnings of occupations comparable to K-12 teachers confirms the teacher disadvantage in weekly earnings and the substantial erosion of teacher relative pay over the last 10 years. Teachers’ weekly wages were nearly on par with those paid in comparable occupations in 1996 but are now 14.3%, or $154, below that of comparable occupations." -quote from introduction

Friday, February 25, 2011

Shepard Smith Admits Wisconsin Battle Not About Budget

"There is no budget crisis in Wisconsin," said Shepard Smith on Fox News, adding the unions have “given concessions….Bust the unions, and it's over," Smith said....I'm not taking a side on this, I'm just telling you what's going pretend this is about a fiscal crisis in the state of Wisconsin is malarkey," Smith said.
 Shepard Smith Admits Wisconsin Battle Not About Budget

Problems with the Use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers

Every classroom should have a well-educated, professional teacher, and school systems should recruit, prepare, and retain teachers who are qualified to do the job. Yet in practice, American public schools generally do a poor job of systematically developing and evaluating teachers.

Many policy makers have recently come to believe that this failure can be remedied by calculating the improvement in students’ scores on standardized tests in mathematics and reading, and then relying heavily on these calculations to evaluate, reward, and remove the teachers of these tested students.
While there are good reasons for concern about the current system of teacher evaluation, there are also good reasons to be concerned about claims that measuring teachers’ effectiveness largely by student test scores will lead to improved student achievement. If new laws or policies specifically require that teachers be fired if their students’ test scores do not rise by a certain amount, then more teachers might well be terminated than is now the case. But there is not strong evidence to indicate either that the departing teachers would actually be the weakest teachers, or that the departing teachers would be replaced by more effective ones. There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.

A review of the technical evidence leads us to conclude that, although standardized test scores of students are one piece of information for school leaders to use to make judgments about teacher effectiveness, such scores should be only a part of an overall comprehensive evaluation. Some states are now considering plans that would give as much as 50% of the weight in teacher evaluation and compensation decisions to scores on existing tests of basic skills in math and reading. Based on the evidence, we consider this unwise.

Any sound evaluation will necessarily involve a balancing of many factors that provide a more accurate view of what teachers in fact do in the classroom and how that contributes to student learning.

Getting Teacher Assessment Right

This is an excellent publication from the National Education Policy Center.
 "Notwithstanding the federal enthusiasm for test scores, many researchers have warned against using a single measurement of any kind as the primary basis for such important personnel decisions as teacher retention, dismissal or pay.... [P]olicymakers would do well to pause and carefully examine the issues that make teacher assessment so complex before implementing an assessment plan.
Steps toward that goal include that policymakers:
• Be clear about the purposes of any assessment before selecting strategies. Where formative and summative assessment are to be combined, plan to address the challenges of dual-purpose systems.
• Involve all key stakeholders in system design.
• Rather than employing a single assessment tool, gather evidence from multiple sources. Combine strategies so that the weakness of any single tool is offset by the strengths of another.
• Be sure that the criteria for assessing performance, artifacts or other factors are credible and are well understood by teachers and assessors.
• Provide high-quality, ongoing training for assessors and routinely calibrate their efforts to ensure consistent application of criteria.
• Look to high-quality research on existing tools and programs to inform the design of assessment systems.
• Commit sufficient resources to produce high-quality, productive assessment. 


NOT Waiting for Superman

Back To NOT Waiting for Superman Home Page 
"Initiated by Rethinking Schools to talk back to the filmand support efforts by teachers, students, and parents to improve and preserve public education." 

Wednesday, February 23, 2011 Op-Ed piece on Education Reform

"The president must realize that in cities where the economy has collapsed and there is a shortage of good jobs...schools lack the resources to improve and students increasingly lack the will to achieve....Many don't believe that if they do well in school, they will go to college and find a good-paying job....These students and the schools they attend need help, not just higher standards....How did the South Koreans make so much progress so quickly? By recognizing that if you want great schools, you must make wise investments in personnel. Teachers there are held in high regard because they are very well trained. They don't judge teachers by student test scores as does Race to the Top, and they don't make it easy for those who are unqualified to enter the profession." Op-Ed piece on Education Reform

Public Labor Conflicts in America

"Protest organizers in Ohio and Indiana are upset that, in their view, Republicans didn't run on a platform of reining in labor, and that their legislation hasn't yet received ample sunlight....A recent Gallup poll that asked if Americans would "favor or oppose a law... taking away some collective bargaining rights of most public unions, including the state teachers union," found that 61% said they would oppose it."
 Time magazine blog on public labor conflicts in America

Now that's a really good question

"I don't see a realistic alternative organisation that can enlist and mobilise manpower in the interest of middle-class and poor people's pocketbook concerns." This is an article from The Economist on the history and future of unions in America.

Don't join the government to get rich -The Economist

"At crucial career-making junctures in life, people who want to get rich tend to enter corporate law rather than join the District Attorney's office, to work for internet companies rather than teach math in public high schools, and so forth."

Monday, February 21, 2011

Why America's Teachers are Enraged

Diane Ravitch wrote an Op-Ed piece on February 21, 2011 that appeas on She is a historian of education and the author of the best seller "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education."

Krugman on Collective Bargaining for Public Employees

This is an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times on the Wisconsin battle over collective bargaining (that is similar to Ohio's) written by economist Paul Krugman.

Phil Hayes' Testimony in response to Ohio Senate Bill 5

Here is a link to testimony from Phil Hayes in response to Ohio Senate Bill 5.

Phil Hayes' Testimony on Ohio Senate Bill 5

A Rationale for Defending Public Education in Ohio

I agree that we need to make cuts in response to the economic challenges. I think benefits and compensation has been reduced in response to changes in market conditions. I have perceived a growing negative attitude toward public schools—probably enhanced by “Waiting for Superman” and the Oprah effect that publicized it. Certainly, there are inequities and abuses. I won’t defend those. I do feel an obligation, however, to counter that message by advocating for the public teaching profession and the many successes that occur every day. I don’t hear as much from this perspective right now and I feel a need to try to balance it from my perspective. When you look at the Ohio state budget simulator created by the Columbus Dispatch there are no easy answers. Certainly, I believe that the public sector should be constrained as much as possible to promote as many resources as possible to the private sector. The private sector is always more efficient and leads to more economic growth than the public sector. However, I do believe that there are some public goods that need to be provided by the public sector. I believe that national defense, police, fire fighting and for the most part education fall in that category. I also feel that there are some market failures that need to be regulated by the government to prevent negative externalities. I believe we need some oversight of markets to ensure effective and efficient competition. I don’t want the public to have such a negative view of public education that they drastically cut resources to it and feel that private schools are going to effectively pick up all of the slack. I think that could have many long-term negative consequences for the economic growth and security of our state.

New York Times Article on Collective Bargaining Debate

Here is a quote from The New York Times regarding the recent debate over collective bargaining for public employees, "Public surveys suggest that most voters do not share the Republicans’ fervor for the deep cuts adopted by the House, or for drastically slashing the power of public-sector unions."

Student Achievement and Collective Bargaining Correlated

The five states without collective bargaining for teachers do have four of the five lowest ranks for educational outcomes and the other state, Virginia, is 44th. Here is a link to ACT/SAT scores which is one of the few comparisons that is standard for all states. Allow this statistic obviously does not prove causation it does show a strong correlation between the two.

Ohio Tribune Chronicle Article on Ohio Senate Bill 5

This is a link to an article in Ohio's Tribune Chronicle on Ohio Senate Bill 5.

Cleveland Examiner Article on Ohio Senate Bill 5

An article from by a Cuyahoga county elections observor on the Ohio Senate Bill 5 debate.

Examiner Article on the Ohio Senate Bill 5 Debate

Columbus Dispatch Ohio Budget Simulator

This is a budget simulator created by the Columbus Dispatch to show the budget problems the state of Ohio is facing.

Finland's Educational Reforms Compared to the United States

I found this article in the New Republic comparing the education systems in Finland and the United States interesting. "...Finnish teachers earn very competitive salaries: High school teachers with 15 years of experience make 102 percent of what their fellow university graduates do. In the United States, by contrast, they earn just 65 percent....Though, unlike U.S. education reformers, Finnish authorities haven’t outsourced school management to for-profit or non-profit organizations, implemented merit pay, or ranked teachers and schools according to test results, they’ve made excellent use of business strategies."

Read the Full Article:

History Collective Bargaining for Public Employees

This is a link to an article in the New Republic that discusses the history collective bargaining for public employees. I did not agree with everything in the article but I did find it interesting.

A Comparison of Spending Cuts to Revenue Measures

I thought this was a pretty interesting comparison of spending cuts to tax increases as a response to state budget shortfalls. For those of you who are willing to really dig deep into state budget issues, they have several other articles on the issue. It is a link to an article from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On Merit Pay in Public Schools

When people think of merit pay, I think many people think of typical private sector compensation. An employee is compensated for sales revenue produced, profit maximization, cost minimization, widgets produced, etc. It makes sense to some to base the employee’s compensation on their actual production. I think it is more difficult to accurately measure the quality of teaching in quantitative terms.

There are many variable that affect educational outcomes—the ability level of the incoming students, their learning from the previous year, their work motivation, their ability to focus, their health, the parenting they receive at home, their home environment, the educational resources available, the behavior of the students at large, their incentives, their expectations on the feasibility of affording college, the models of success in their lives, administrative demands placed on the teacher, etc. in addition to the quality of the teaching.

Certainly there are characteristics of effective teaching and some teachers are more effective than others. But measuring these differences is difficult, costly and time-consuming. Each year, each teacher receives different groups of students that are not the same of any teacher from the year before. Also, students develop, progress and, yes, sometimes regress each year. So, it seems like merit would have to be determined by some sort of Multi-Factor Evaluation.

To do this, it seems that you would have to give the students a pre-test at the beginning of year in all of the content knowledge the teacher is expected to teach. In the school where I work teachers are expected to teach reading “across the curriculum” meaning that all teachers are supposed to teach reading. Also, all teachers are supposed to teach writing “across the curriculum.” So, students would have to be tested in those areas as well. But if it taught across the curriculum, how would we know to which teacher to attribute the child’s performance?

We are also expected to teach “21st Century Skills.” These include being a Communicator with 5 Indicators, being a Self-Directed Individual with 5 Indicators, being a Collaborator with 7 indicators, being a Creative Thinker and Innovator with 4 Indicators, being a Complex Thinker with 6 Indicators and being a Global Citizen with 6 indicators. Assessments and rubrics for these skills are being developed, but they are costly and time-consuming because they are not easily assessed. Also, it would be difficult to discern which teacher contributed to the students’ development in these areas.

Then you would probably want an administrator to observe each teaching at least once throughout the year. You would probably want anonymous peer reviews conducted by the teachers as well. To fairly do this, teachers would have directly observe their peers teaching so their evaluation wouldn’t be based on speculation or hearsay. I work in a building with over 150 teachers so I would have to do this every day to see every teacher. It could be done within departments at the high school to reduce costs I suppose. Then the students should probably fill out standardized teacher evaluations as well. Then at the end of the year, the students would have to take all of the assessments from the beginning of the year again. This is more time and resources away from instruction.

All of this information would have to be collected and assessed in a timely way so the district could determine contracts based on merit pay and which, if any, teachers to not offer a contract. This would have to be done in time for the district to hire a new teacher to fill the position and for the teacher to receive additional training and acquire a new job somewhere. Of the percentage of money spent on education, it seems like this system would increase administration and implementation costs. Maybe it would increase teacher effectiveness. And maybe it would allow us to identify and dismiss ineffective teachers.

But, let’s assume that each school district hires the most qualified individual from the applicants willing to take the position based on the current market conditions. Let’s further assume that given current market conditions every one who is willing to be a teacher is participating in the labor market for teachers. Will there be sufficient incentives in place to attract new teachers to replace the “ineffective” teachers that are identified? Would it lead to a system where some school districts continue to ndentify “ineffective” teachers and replace them with another “ineffective” teacher? In that case, maybe the teacher would not be the problem but what is being asked of the teacher. We may have spent a lot of time, money and resources to not really change things very much. But maybe this system would make the public feel better about what the schools are doing. Maybe it would provide incentives for teachers to be better. But, I'm not so sure of that.

Based on my experience at my current school, teachers are very accountable to students, teachers and administrators. If any one has a concern about something that I have said or done, I usually hear about it pretty quickly and have to address it with the student, parent or administrator. Maybe it would be cheaper for parents to take a more active role in the education of their children. (Which, the vast majority of parents that I work with already do.) Maybe instead of complaining about public schools and voting against funding for public schools, people should become involved in the decision-making process at the local level. From my experiences, our school is very responsive to communication from the community because we know that we depend on the public to vote for school funding levies. Maybe accountability to students, parents and the community is ultimately the best incentive for teachers to do their job well. This system is much cheaper, but it does take time and effort.

The Value of Public Schools in America

As a democratic society based on the free enterprise system, we do not guarantee that every child will be born into a family that earns a comfortable income. We do not guarantee that a child will not be born into a low-income family where his or her guardian may have to work two jobs to meet expenses. We cannot keep a child from being born into a dangerous neighborhood that is riddled with crime. We cannot guarantee the quality and effectiveness of the parenting each child will receive. The one thing that we can do as a society, though, is to provide that child with a safe and meaningful public school education. We can provide our children with a well-trained, professional educator who provides their students with a safe learning environment and communicates that their teacher cares about them and their development as people. The teacher can model respect, intellectual curiosity and how to learn. We can communicate to that child through the quality of the educational facilities and quality of the teacher that they matter to the society. In spite of the obstacles that child will face, he or she will have the opportunity to work hard during school, develop as a person and be cared for during the school day. That child will have the opportunity to take the same achievement tests and college entrance tests as other students and demonstrate their merit for a high school diploma, college education or more. Without that opportunity, a greater proportion of society will not be prepared to exercise their rights and responsibilities as citizens in a democracy. People are entitled to the fruits of their labors. Disparities are going to naturally emerge based on ability and circumstances. But at least as a society we can do our best to provide each child an equitable opportunity in the race of life. If we do not provide this opportunity to all students, we will not be able to fully develop and utilize the talents and abilities of our citizens. We as a society will suffer as we are less efficient and productive as a society. We will also diminish our ability to claim that we are meritocracy where rewards are allocated to those that have earned them through merit. We will look instead more and more like a society where the rewards are given to those who are able to buy the best education for their children and provide them with the social capital to be successful in life. The poor will not receive those opportunities and will be more likely to earn a low income themselves. Social mobility is necessary for our society to be able claim to be a democratic meritocracy. Quality public schools are essential for social mobility and for producing educated citizens capable of participating in a democratic society.