Category Archives: Study

Two Good Articles

One article in the L.A. Times compares the “blame the teacher” movement currently popular in the U.S. with the “blame the worker” movement that failed in the 70s and 80s.

A great section has this:

Recall the reaction of domestic manufacturers in the 1970s as Japanese competitors began to take market share: Many managers and an army of experts blamed American workers. They denounced workers’ “blue-collar blues,” lackadaisical attitudes and union job protections as the chief impediments to higher quality, productivity and competitiveness.

It took nearly two decades for manufacturers to realize that this diagnosis was deeply flawed and that the recommendations that flowed from it were leading U.S. industry further into decline. Recall the success of Japanese-run auto transplants operating in this country during the 1980s: They reached world-class quality levels with a U.S. workforce, in some cases a unionized workforce, while domestic auto companies continued to blame American workers and saw their quality levels stagnate.

Another key line is: “…schools are collaborative, not individual, enterprises, so teaching quality and school performance depend above all on whether the institutional systems support teachers’ efforts.”

Another good article is in the NY Times and centers on student success needing character and individual failure. An interesting line from a headmaster is this one:

People who have an easy time of things, who get 800s on their SAT’s, I worry that those people get feedback that everything they’re doing is great. And I think as a result, we are actually setting them up for long-term failure. When that person suddenly has to face up to a difficult moment, then I think they’re screwed, to be honest. I don’t think they’ve grown the capacities to be able to handle that.”

Basically, the premise of this headmaster is that students need to develop character in order to overcome obstacles in life. It’s a lengthy but interesting read and worth the effort.

Responses to Attacks on Teachers

An interesting debate has popped up on a Seattle Times article, but most of the debate centers on the same old, rehashed, and repeated talking points which are decidedly anti-public education. Here are my quick responses to a couple topics.

Responding to someone who advocates performance over seniority during times of layoffs:

Everyone is pretty much in agreement that the current evaluation system is not working. Thus, trying to use a system (that we all basically agree is broken) on which to base layoffs is a ludicrous notion. The new evaluation system (if the administrators do what they are supposed to do) will force teachers to improve and will more accurately assess teachers.

If you create a system that ranks teachers, collaboration is gone. No longer would a teacher have an incentive to help other teachers, especially those new to teaching. In fact, watching a teacher struggle next door would be a benefit to me. This cynical view would become reality, and ultimately the kids would become the victims. Why would I aid someone when I am in competition with him?

Plus, every ranking system used in education has numerous flaws as study after study reveals. This would create lawsuits and more. As one example, Houston’s teachers were ranked using one such system. When the state test, SAT, and ACT exams were used to rank the teachers, the results varied greatly from one test to the other yet all three are teaching goals. Teachers at the top of one list were on the bottom of another. This end result has been repeatedly shown in Florida, Tennessee, Texas, and in other areas.

People also have a mistaken notion that seniority is the only factor during layoffs. This is inaccurate. In fact, what a teacher instructs has a large impact on RIFs. Some areas/positions cannot be cut, and a highly qualified teacher must be in those positions.

“Based on performance over seniority” is a great soundbite, but it is really nothing more than a bumper sticker slogan and worth about as much.

Responding to teachers not putting in enough hours to warrant their pay checks:

I teach English and I’m required to teach a number of thesis papers each year. Now, if each of my 150 students composes a paper and I take 15 minutes per paper, that’s 37.5 hours for one paper. This does not include any other assignments, prep time for lessons, parent contacts, etc. This occurs on top of everything else, and it’s only one paper. One of my classes requires 4-5 papers per semester.

I don’t say this to elicit sympathy but to illustrate the number of unseen hours that some teachers endure during the school year, unpaid time that teachers essentially volunteer to their students because they care about those children. These are volunteer hours, and the teachers could simply work their hours and go home, but they do not.

There are disciplines without these extra hours requirements; this, I recognize. However, most teachers put in many hours well beyond the contract details.

Responding to the mistaken notion that teachers can’t be fired:

Incompetent administrators do struggle to terminate those who need to leave the profession.

Tenure in this state does not mean a job for life as many like to believe, but it does require due process. This really means that the administration has to show (with evidence) that the teacher should be let go.

However, a teacher can be fired for any reason in the first three years of employment. Let me repeat that: any reason. This gives the administration three full years with no real obstruction to determine a teacher’s fitness in the classroom.

Just as I must provide evidence to justify a grade for a student (and whether or not the student passes a course) and provide the means for improvement, an administrator must justify with evidence a termination.

Still, some offenses result in immediate termination. I can’t comment on the Auburn teacher since I was not involved with the case (were you?). I have been involved in a couple cases where teachers were terminated; it just didn’t make the papers.

Responding to the oft-repeated idea that unions are only out for themselves:

I’m not so sure why people think the unions are such negatives in education (though I would agree that not all unions are the same).

In my district the union does a great job enforcing due process and advocating for me, but it also helps with things no one else is pushing for: keeping class sizes manageable, helping ensure I get the professional development I need, protecting me from poor administrators, making sure the curriculum doesn’t become a scripted and brainless series of exercises, and more. These things benefit kids as much as (or more than) the teachers.

The state union has actually collaborated with the state for a new evaluation system intended to force professional growth and improve student learning. This is a definite positive for education.

Responding to a critic who does not understand how a masters helps a teacher become better:

Depends on the masters and how it is applied. I earned mine while teaching, so everything I learned I put into practice immediately. My masters forced me to analyze data in different ways, to use it in my classroom with more specificity, and to alter the way I structured lessons and activities. For me, the masters made a huge difference.

Plus, teaching is not a static profession. New approaches, studies, material, and so one are developed all the time. Continuing education is a major component of being a teacher.

That’s about it for now.

Cheaters!

Diane Ravitch has pointed out time after time how so-called reformers of education have used specious studies, suspect methodologies, and faulty reasoning when creating education policies and enacting legislation.

Now she is pointing out how data is manipulated, statistics falsely presented, and heroics greatly exaggerated. Check out her article here in the NY Times.

Arne Duncan’s Letter

I am not a fan of Arne Duncan’s or President Obama’s education agenda. I think both of these men are hurting education in this country, and it was evident from the beginning of their terms in office. I posted an article about this when I heard Duncan speak in San Diego at the NEA-RA; his speech was rife with dangerous language and plans to dismantle areas of success.

Now, Duncan has a letter to teachers thanking them during Teacher Appreciation Week; however, what he says and what he has done are two entirely different things. Not only has he helped turn education into a competition guaranteeing that many children lose, he claims to want to work with teachers:

So I want to work with you to change and improve federal law, to invest in teachers and strengthen the teaching profession. Together with you, I want to develop a system of evaluation that draws on meaningful observations and input from your peers, as well as a sophisticated assessment that measures individual student growth, creativity, and critical thinking.

But, he does not work with teachers; he works against teachers often. (Tom at Stories From School alludes to this idea in his post.) Duncan supports merit pay (which is not shown to work), wants to limit the power of unions (despite their track records of supporting teachers and students), and creates systems of competition for education resources and monies (ensuring that some students never get the help they need). This is not working with teachers.

Now, read this opening to an article in the New York Times:

WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

Compare this with our approach to our military: when results on the ground are not what we hoped, we think of ways to better support soldiers. We try to give them better tools, better weapons, better protection, better training. And when recruiting is down, we offer incentives.

Here is someone who understands what it will take to attract the best and keep the best in the profession. Here is someone who would work with teachers. Here is someone who could improve the profession.

A Profession Lost at Sea?

Previously I had posted about how education may be suffering from the loss of a generation of teachers. With few people retiring and no positions to hire, education could be losing a myriad of teachers to other professions. After all, if teaching isn’t hiring, someone else may be.

Well, I’ve been accused of hyperbole with my coming thoughts, but I firmly believe that if the country does not turnabout and begin to value teachers more, we’re going to doom the public education system.

Graduates see what is happening in Wisconsin, what has happened in Rhode Island, and the continued attacks on teachers and their benefits. Why would anyone want to enter the teaching profession?

They don’t. At least the best are not. Nicholas Kristof noted a McKinsey & Company study revealing that 47% of America’s K-12 teachers come from the bottom 1/3 of their college classes. The top 1/3 are becoming doctors, bankers, and entering other lucrative professions.

And this should surprise no one. Graduates are seeing that, more and more, the job of a teacher is getting more difficult, the profession is being disrespected, and salaries and benefits are under attack. The best and brightest are going elsewhere.

And where does this leave the profession? Here is one example from Kristof’s article:

In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher, the McKinsey study found.

He further noted:

Starting teacher pay, which now averages $39,000, would have to rise to $65,000 to fill most new teaching positions in high-needs schools with graduates from the top third of their classes, the McKinsey study found.

I recently read (and I forget where but will post the link when I find it it) that in Washington State had teacher salaries simply matched the inflation rate for the last 30 years, each teacher would be making on average $12,000 more than they currently do.

If the country is serious about attracting the nation’s best, then salaries and benefits have to part of the whole package. Other countries get it:

Consider three other countries renowned for their educational performance: Singapore, South Korea and Finland. In each country, teachers are drawn from the top third of their cohort, are hugely respected and are paid well (although that’s less true in Finland). In South Korea and Singapore, teachers on average earn more than lawyers and engineers, the McKinsey study found.

If we want to lead the world, we better start valuing education more than the American Idol finalists, Jersey Shore, and pro sports. And, we better start recognizing the debilitating effects of poverty on our students.

Teachers get paid a lot of lip service, but only when this country puts its money where its mouth is will we see a world class system develop.