During the three days of NBC’s Education Nation President Obama and candidate Romney gave lengthy interviews.
The President reiterated the administrations policies – teacher pay for performance, teacher accountability by student test scores, charter schools, the Common Core and moving from formula grants (Title 1) to competitive grants (Race to the Top). He called for an end to teacher bashing many times, expressed enthusiasm about working with unions and continuing the federal role in shaping education.
Read transcript here
Candidate Romney pretty much agreed with Obama’s policies, except, and a big except, he believed the federal role should be sharply diminished – read as less funding. And, oh yes, he trashed teacher unions numerous times. In an answer to a parent in the audience who averred that in a poll parents support teacher unions 3:1 Romney laughed off the polls.
Romney was vague on specifics.
Read transcript here
Diane Ravitch, as only Diane can, sharply criticized the positions of the President, point by point.
Why are politicians, from Washington to Governors and Mayors, both Republicans and Democrats, so united in supporting policies so antithetical to the core beliefs of teachers and parents?
The answer: money and numbers crunching.
At the New School Milano Lecture Series, Urban Policy in an Era of Fiscal Austerity, Gavin Newsom, the Lt Governor of California and former Mayor of San Francisco laments, “Government commitments, at all levels, are not sustainable.”
The cost of education only moves upward and the costs equate to higher and higher taxes for core voters, frequently seniors, creating a potential “gray versus brown” confrontation. A triage conundrum: Should limited dollars fund Medicare/Medicaid or schools and programs for the poor?
The “word” in Washington is austerity, which translates into fewer federal dollars to states and cities on the verge of bankruptcy.
With the federal debt at $16 trillion, the fate of the nation’s cities stands at a crossroads … a rising tide of poverty and inequality threatens to undermine their progress … a large group of second-tier cities, from Detroit and St. Louis to Stockton and San Bernardino, are besieged as never before. How will the mushrooming national debt and looming federal austerity regime affect these trends?
As the specter of seemingly never-ending budget cuts loom over states and cities the largest budget item is education.
For decades the decision makers were the educators, the electeds provided the dollars and the school boards and chancellors and superintendents determined the programmatic decisions.
Slowly, inexorably, the decision-making moved from the educators to the number cruncher economists . As politicians faced with ever expanding budgets, especially in education, looked to stem costs exacerbated by decreasing tax revenues and political pressures from the right.
Governors and Mayors ask: How can we both control the cost of education and increase outcomes?
As a “insider” told me, “Educators have been running school systems with horrendous outcomes for decades, nothing has changed. Los Angeles is one huge dropout factory, mathematics, the ability to analyze numbers and predict results should drive policy, not outmoded ideas that have failed over and over again. We have the tools, for example: regression is a statistical procedure that takes raw historical data and estimates how various causal factors influence a single variable of interest; allowing old-fashioned educators to use the same failed policies time after time is a definition of insanity.”
Examples of the “new world” of data-driven education policy,
School Funding Formulas:
Weighted Student Funding, in NYC called Fair Student Funding (see 58-page description here) was created by Robert Gordon, an
economist, lawyer who has applied the same principles to the changing the formula for the distribution of ESEA Title 1 funds (see explanation here). The NYC union has serious doubts and raises a number of well argued criticisms.
Pay for Performance and Seniority:
The NEA Foundation writes, “…there is a general consensus that the strongest gains in teacher effectiveness occur during the first few years, and gains continue to occur at a slower rate through year 10.” A teacher’s ability to impact student gains wanes with years of service: why should salary schedules be seniority based?
While the Chicago Board of Education backed off it’s demand for pay for performance a neighboring state has imbedded the concept.
Under Indiana’s new law (2011), the state will ask that test performance of students be factored into pay raises for the first time. That is a major shift away from the rigid pay tables in most school districts that awarded raises primarily based on a teacher’s years of experience and the academic degrees they earned.
“The level of concern from our teachers is through the roof,” said Wayne Township Superintendent Jeff Butts. “It’s higher than I’ve ever seen it.”
[The new law is] largely based on economic and political theory: Merit pay will increase incentives to do good work. Good teachers will make more money. Poor teachers will be removed. Overall pay — along with student performance — could actually rise.
I argued that a pay for performance plan might make teaching a transitory profession, why should someone remain in teaching, especially in a high needs school, if their salary was capped?
My “insider” adversary continued, “The system shouldn’t be driven by the needs of teachers – if transitory teachers come and go, with higher achievers staying and students profit – what’s wrong with the model?”
The Rocketship charter school network in San Jose receives high marks for an innovative use of technology in a K-5 model. While the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) is universally praised as a model, a well-regarded research organization, the Brookings Institute takes a close look,
They determined that the HCZ flagship charter school, Promise Academy I, was “a middling charter school,” compared with other Manhattan and Bronx charters. They also stated: “There is no compelling evidence that investments in parenting classes, health services, nutritional programs and community improvement have appreciable effects on student achievement.”
Of course charter schools are not unionized, cities have no liability for employee pensions and charter school providers are a counterweight to the lobbying efforts of unions.
I chided the smug insider, “Remember the computer acronym, GIGO, garbage in, garbage out, mayor’s appoint school district leaders who are grossly incompetent, institute policies without any evidence of success, to be perfectly honest they are morally and ethically irresponsible.”
Don’t think I convinced him but it made me feel better, and he didn’t understood my mumbled “yiddishkeit” profanity.