The Viral Nature of News in the 21st Century: Rubber Rooms Distracting from Research-Based Evidence, Forty Years of Data Tell Us the Early Years are the Key to School and Societal Reform

The viral nature of news in the connected world of the 21st century.
 
A minister in Gainesville, Florida, with a congregation of 30, threatens to burn the Koran on 9/11: riots break out in Muslim cities around the world, a phone call from the Secretary of Defense, comments by the President, scores of TV camera crews race to Gainesville, the “event” captures the news media.
 
The chancellor “collects” teachers who are either under investigation or accused of misconduct and moves them in Teacher Reassignment Centers, purposely drags his heels, they sit for months or years, at full pay, while the Department takes no actions.
 
Department press releases, stories strategically placed in the print media, hundreds of stories, details about specific individuals are leaked, a Steve Brill story in the New Yorker, the “rubber room” issue goes viral.
 
The viral nature of the story embarrasses the union, and, eventually the mayor.  Why is he allowing hundreds of teachers to sit and sit and collect full salary?
 
A compromise is reached, the Teacher Reassignment Centers, aka, rubber rooms, are abolished, teachers are assigned to administrative offices, and strict time limits are implemented.
 
In the pre-Klein years, the district office era, at any given time about 200 teachers were sitting in district offices, or, doing clerical work in administrative offices. Gotham Schools reports that there are currently about 440 teachers who have been removed pending adjudication of accusations in a school system is close to 80,000 pedagogical employees.
 
On the national level the issue of “bad teachers,” a viral story, drives educational policy. The lure of billions of dollars convinces states to change laws in regard to evaluating teachers, moving from principal evaluations to the use, to some extent, of pupil achievement data.
 
The White House drives the “bad” teachers story. Obama/Duncan have chosen to use the viral nature of the “bad” teacher issue to force/coerce state, school districts and unions to compromise re the use of pupil achievement data and teacher dismissal procedures.
 
A core question: Is the ‘bad teacher syndrome” a reason for declining achievement? or, are presidential advisors Rahm Emmanuel and David Axelrod simply jumping on the band wagon?
 
 
 Why, he asked, have we spent so much money on school reform in America and have so little to show for it in terms of scalable solutions that produce better student test scores? Maybe, he answered, it is not just because of bad teachers, weak principals or selfish unions. “The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation,” wrote Samuelson. “Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail.

Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited “student apathy.” … 60 percent of incoming community college students and 30 percent of freshmen at four-year colleges need remedial reading and math courses.

Against these realities, school “reform” rhetoric is blissfully evasive. It is often an exercise in extravagant expectations…. Now Duncan routinely urges “a great teacher” in every classroom. That would be about 3.7 million “great” teachers — a feat akin to having every college football team composed of all-Americans. With this sort of intellectual rigor, what school “reform” promises is more disillusion.

As the United States slides down the student achievement ladder across the globe the administration steadfastly refuses to address reality and pursues extravagant facile faux solutions.

Let me repeat what Professor Samuelson tells us, Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well.

What is especially distressing is that “answers,” by which I mean policies are not shrouded in mystery.

James Heckman is the Henry Schultz Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago, and shared the 2000 Nobel Prize in Economics and has studied pre-school and early childhood education extensively. In a Washington Post interview  Heckman addresses the economic impact of pre-school and early childhood educaton,

 Instead of putting money into community colleges and putting money into high schools, to actually understand that there should be a major reemphasis toward the early years and producing children who are going to be productive.

…. the American family is in deep trouble, that a lot of kids are not getting the kind of environments that other kids get, and that that environment makes a big difference, and that the structure of the whole program of American society is oriented too much around support for remediation and much less around prevention. That’s true for health, and it’s true for education.

This kind of program has much broader implications. It’s a health program, and it is an education program. It’s also a crime program. If you recognize the multiple benefits that come from promoting both the cognitive and soft skills of these children, especially disadvantaged young children who are being produced at much greater numbers now, because the American family is more in shambles than probably ever before, at least in recent time, the last 40-50 years. (emphasis added)

So I think that there’s a strong economic productivity argument to be made. The societal impact is much, much greater than is typically viewed. People have to get out of these very narrow policy conceptions, out of the idea that this is the province of the Education Department or HHS. It’s a way to improve quality of life across a number of dimensions. It means people can live bigger lives, greater lives.

 Heckman’s report, The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children, describes how individual productivity can be fostered by investments in young children, particularly children in poverty or other adverse circumstances. 

The report’s findings are based on an analysis of the impact of current workforce conditions, workforce skills, the impact of baby boomer retirements, crime and family environments.  For example, the report finds that America’s workforce is not gaining in quality or productivity, but rather seeing slower growth.  He argues that if this trend continues, there will be fewer educated individuals in the workforce and lower productivity than in previous periods.  Key findings of the report include:

  • Cognitive and noncognitive abilities are important for a productive workforce, and gaps that emerge early are difficult to change. 
  • “Skill begets skill and learning begets more learning.”  Because skills are accumulated, starting early and over time, investing in young children is an investment in future productivity and public safety.
  • Family environments are important in determining education and skills.  Growing numbers of children face adverse environments that restrict the development of these skills.  Early education and other early interventions such as home visits can mitigate the effects of poor family environments.  Key workforce skills such as motivation, persistence and self-control are developed early.  Heckman concludes that K-12 schooling comes too late, and other remedies are prohibitively costly as well (e.g., job training programs and second-chance GED programs). (See Figure 1.)

ccgraph

 An irony: the President, in his back to school speech in Philadelphia, seems to be leaning toward Heckman’s findings,
 
“Here’s your job: Showing up to school on time. Paying attention in class. Doing your homework. Studying for exams. Staying out of trouble,” Obama says. “That kind of discipline and drive — the kind of hard work — is absolutely essential for success.”
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6 responses to “The Viral Nature of News in the 21st Century: Rubber Rooms Distracting from Research-Based Evidence, Forty Years of Data Tell Us the Early Years are the Key to School and Societal Reform

  1. Blaming the absence of student progress on a faltering economy, rising crime rates, family dysfunction and lack of pupil motivation just serves to let those of us who work in public education off the hook.

    Preparing students for success in the 21st Century requires that we’re able to differentiate between success and failure when assessing our young people and ourselves. The future of our schools and society depends on our willingness to do so.

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  2. Saying it lets those who work in public education off the hook doesn’t make it incorrect!

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  3. I think both you miss the point of this piece. Pre-k/kinder education is the best use of the taxpayers’ educational investment. However, those who are responsible for assuring that all 3 to 4 year olds are in a pre-k program are more interested in pontificating on the terrible, incompetent, American teachers.
    It is just so much more fun to fuss about teachers than get down to work and see to it that the pre-k/kinder waiting lists of ‘200+’ are reduced to ‘0’.

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  4. The elimination of the rubber rooms is a sham. It’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. These people are sitting in offices rather than the rubber room. The chancellor should take care of this. Cases should be expedited.

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  5. Blaming the absence of student progress on a faltering economy, rising crime rates, family dysfunction and lack of pupil motivation just serves to let those of us who work in public education off the hook.
    It’s the usual Tweed response. No one wants to be let off the hook. However, ignoring that schools and students do not exist in a vacuum might be helpful.

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  6. Eric: ‘Preparing students for success in the 21st Century requires that we’re able to differentiate between success and failure when assessing our young people and ourselves.’

    And that we’re able to be courageously honest about the success and failure of school reforms, the concretions of ideologies, and our inabilities as of yet to accurately assess or achieve unanimous agreement on fundamental issues in education. We can still move forward and upward, but not by blindly following lesser ideologies or outright deception.

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