Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Choice Finance Fantasies (Part II)

I love the internet. In particular, I love the way it allows for conversations to break out between people who would never meet or interact in real life. This is one of those conversations.

First, I wrote this piece about what I see as some fallacies in the ideas behind choice financing. Soon afterwards, Neerav Kingsland wrote this response at the blog reliquishment. Kingsland is the former CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, so it is safe to say that we come at these issues from widely different perspectives. But here I am responding to his response, because, yay, internet.

Kingsland suggests that I've fallen into "accounting like a state," in which "finances are viewed through the lens of government program solvency, not outcomes." Or, if I understand correctly, institutions can become more worried about their own continue existence than about making sure their missions are accomplished. I agree that's a thing.

Kingsland restates my argument thus:
  1. Public education benefits from economies of scale; specifically, charter schools are highly inefficient and they end up reducing teacher salaries and pensions to make up for these inefficiencies.
  1. Public school districts have a high fixed costs, so when funds “follow” the student, districts often lose more in revenue than they can save in costs.
  1. Public accountability over taxpayer funds for education is best accomplished through elected school boards (where all citizens can vote for societal ends) rather than choice (where public school parents pursue their own individual ends).
I'd quibble with #1-- I wouldn't call it inefficiency so much as simply large aggregate expense. And I also mention that the gap can be closed by fundraising, contributions, and tuitions. But otherwise, that's about right.

Here are Kingsland responses:

1. I didn't consider academic outcomes. If charters do a better job with less funds, that's something. Kingsland suggests there's evidence that they do, and a mountain of problems with what anybody means by "better." I'm unconvinced that the evidence is even sort of conclusive.

2. Kingsland observes that state pension systems are a fantasy fueled mess verging on insolvency. This is, in many cases, the result of serious state level mismanagement, and in other cases, the result of mis-stating the actual level of crisis.

3. Schools have fixed costs. So do lots of businesses. Schools should develop business plans that keep students from jumping ship. That assumes that schools can best compete by doing a good job.

4. Accountability can be achieved many ways, including non-profits providing school services under the control of an elected board. I don't disagree with this.

Kingsland (and a couple of writers in the comments section) help crystalize for me where one of the big conflicts between choice fans of economic school reforminess clash with (for lack of a better word) traditionalists. Both want to operate inefficient systems. Both insist that their inefficient system will work just fine as long as they can have access to That Pile of Money Over There. But Kingsland et al want the pile of money to include tax dollars that are already being spent on other things; in particularly, they would like the pile to include money that is being spent on teacher salaries and pensions. Traditionalists want access to tax revenues.

Kingsland makes the point that charters have to balance their books (as if traditional public schools somehow do not). The implication is that charters are more fiscally responsible or efficient, but charters balance the books by transferring expenses back to the public school system, including the expenses of educating more costly-to-educate students and even, in cases like the Moscowitz schools, the costs of owning and maintaining the building itself. Charters are, at times, like a college student who is proud of supporting himself and Living Within His Means while his parents are still paying all his tuition, room and board bills.

It's not that I believe public school systems are a model of financial efficiency for all the world to follow. It's that I think choice systems are almost always going to be worse. If you could run turn a public system into a public/non-profit hybrid system without having to spend a single dollar more or cut a single service, I would not squawk a bit. And I believe that such a system is probably theoretically possible in a select few places. But mostly it can't be done, and even Kingsland and his boosters are saying they could totally do it-- if you just gave them access to that pile of money over there. And that desire to drain salary and benefit funding in order to make the system work means you must now convince me that you can somehow maintain a quality teaching force with a fast food style compensation structure. That's an argument for another day, but I'm more likely to become convinced that rainbow-pooping unicorns exist.

More importantly, I'm pretty sure that financial efficiency is not a worthwhile goal for a school system. Not that I think it should be disregarded. But it can't be the goal. Efficiency is not excellence.

Kingsland suggests I'm laboring under four fantasies.
  1. School districts are efficient because they use economies of scale to deliver a strong educational experience for students.
  1. States funded teacher pension systems are based on sober predictions of market returns.
  1. The high fixed cost of operating a school district is a good reason to prevent competition.
     4. Democratic accountability is incompatible with giving choice to the users of government services

#1 is beside the point. Public schools must educate all students who show up. The moment you accept that as part of the mission, you can kiss efficiency goodbye. Kingsland says productivity is important in figuring efficiency, and that's true, but some students will always really hurt your numbers-- they still get an education. Providing a one-size-fits-most product is also good for efficiency, but it's not what schools are for.

#2 Unfortunately, state teacher pension funds are based on political buffoonery, and currently they are still suffering the effects of the economic crash that all those sober economists and bankers and regulators saddled us with six or seven years ago.

#3 No. It's a good reason to prevent fake competition. The charter systems being tried around the country are not anything like a real free and open market, even if they start with the premise that every student is a customer with a cost-per-pupil stipend to "spend" at the school of his choice (a premise that my first essay was written to address). There are other big problems with market forces in education, but we're already running long here.

#4 Probably not. But what charter and non-profit (which, c'mon-- "non-profit" just means "we don't have to share our income with shareholders) seem to want is a system without any such oversight. Remember Reed Hastings explaining that schools would work so much better if we did away with school boards? That would seem to be the choice ideal.

Elected school boards are ugly and messy and political (unlike corporate boards which never have those problems). And they are often forced to respond to exactly the community concerns that make schools less efficient. But that's the gig.

This is another area where we find some pretty fundamental differences of opinion about schools. I believe that schools are meant to represent the will of the entire community, and to educate each child as best they can without breaking the bank, but without writing off any children either. I don't believe that they are meant to be engines of business-style efficiency, because that creates a host of economic pressures that run counter to the mission and are eventually bad for students. And I believe that, even though their intentions may in some cases be pure, choice advocates are not being honest about the true costs of a choice based system.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Efficiency vs. Excellence

We've all been discussing efficiency lately, thanks largely to the release of the GEMS report on educational efficiency, and while there's one critical point that has appeared tangentially in much of the discussion (including the original GEMS paper), I think it's worth pulling it out and looking at it by itself.

Efficiency and excellence are not the same thing.

In fact, excellence and efficiency generally cannot go together (unless you are the kind of person who defines excellence as efficiency).

Here's another way to understand efficiency. The point of highest efficiency in any business is a point that meets the following two requirements:

1) If we create higher quality, it will require a greater proportional dedication of resources.

2) If we devote fewer resources, it will result in a proportionally greater drop in quality.

Efficiency is the not the best possible result we can achieve, But to get a little bit closer to Best Possible Result would require a whole lot of time and money.

In the business world, this is somewhat related to our old favorite, Return On Investment. This is where I could make the product better, but I would be spending an additional $10 on the product and getting only $10 or less value out of it. This is when you're going to sell your house and you realize that it would cost you another $1,000 to fix the bathroom, but fixing the bathroom would probably only get you another $500 on the selling price.

Past a certain point, it lowers efficiency in your operation to improve the quality of your product. This is how car companies end up saying, "We could fix that flawed feature, but it would cost us $10 a unit and we couldn't charge more for it. So let's not fix it."

The pursuit of excellence and the pursuit of efficiency are two different things. Top ivy prep schools, like the Philps' academies, are grossly inefficient. Philips Exeter seats students at Harkness tables, limiting class size to twelve, which is grossly inefficient. Faculty could handle classes of double the size with no notable drop in quality.

Well, maybe they could. The thing about quality is that it's perception. Efficiency can go hand in hand with marketing. If we drop resources by a quantity of X, quality will drop by Y-- but can we get the customers to think that the new normal is just as good as the old one? In schools, can we convince people that a class of three hundred taught by one teacher on the other end of a computer link-up is just as good as one teacher in a room with only twelve students?

The pursuit of excellence is expensive-- usually prohibitively so. But if we use efficiency as our guiding star, we will be led inexorably to the Land Of Just Good Enough, a place that almost nobody wants to send their children to. It does make sense to discuss efficiency in education-- how to make the best use of finite resources. It does not make sense to make efficiency our goal, certainly not to make it our very definition of excellence. McDonalds is efficient. But nobody goes there strictly for excellence.

Granddad Learns About The Common Core

[Update: As you can now see, the video has gone away. The Youtube account "Common Core," a group of filmmakers from around the country, has shut down after only three days. Probably their best move, all things considered. If I can find a link to the video anywhere on the interwebs, I'll be sure to repost.]

As your grandad would not say, "OMG!"

The media group 617 has produced a video in support of the Core that is apparently intended to embarrass its opponents into silence. It has decidedly not worked out that way-- you will have a hard time finding the video, which seems to have suffered its own attack of embarrassment, but you can read about the reaction over at Missouri Education Watchdog. They were not pretty.

The video features a Cartoon Old Guy, who's insulting on so many levels. He's dismissive of the kid. He is wrapped up in his own stupid stories. He can't remember the teacher's name (aging brain function-- hilarious). He's ethnic. He's an ignorant war vet of some war-- he looks like a stereotypical WWII vet, but that would make him ninety-ish. Could be Korea, which would make him seventy-ish. He thinks Gates runs Apple (har!) and he measures the value of his grandson's ability to "figure" in how it can calculate money. Oh, and he plays the lottery.

He's worried about the Common Core stuff he's heard about on TV, and I'm wondering where on TV he's hearing bad things about the Core, because Core proponents have that media pretty well locked up.

The message here? Common Core critics are uninformed fools. Note that the nice teacher lady does not actually offer a single piece of fact-based data about the Core to contradict Old Bat-brained Granddad. She doesn't have to (though she might have mention that Hector will have to put a stop to figuring out math problems in his head). He's so obviously a dope that we are meant to simply discount his complaints because, well, he's a dope. He is truly the most wondrous animatronic straw grampaw ever.

This is not much of a coup for whoever hired Six One Seven Studios, a production company located just outside Boston and dedicated to "providing our clients with the most innovative, engaging and authentic visual content. We combine our artistry with the latest technology and a deep understanding of your work to create powerful stories"

The video broke over at Politico, and one has to assume that someone associated with the video sent it to politico hoping for some buzz. According to Politico, the firm made this epic video all on its own:

Executive Producer Bryan Roberts said the firm self-funded the video after learning about the Common Core debate through work with clients including the New York and Rhode Island state education departments and EngageNY, a website that provides curriculum resources to New York teachers. “Too many of the pro-Common Core videos were PowerPoints and talking heads,” Roberts said. “So we put out this video to help folks see the power of telling a fun but simple story with real people.” He has more planned.

More? The mind reels.

The studio has many swell clients. You know who one of those clients is?

The Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Yup. An almost-as-hilarious video of exTREMEly earnest teachers (wait-- is that Miss Jenkins??!!) produced by the company is featured on the MTA website in their promo for the Teacher Leadership Initiative. My favorite part-- the very last teacher, who says "Teacher" and then pauses (Wait a beat. Waaaiiiit a beeeat)  and finally lands on "Leading." Though I enjoy the part where several of the teachers appear to have been jolted to life by cattle prods.

I don't know who really prompted Bryan Roberts to create this masterpiece of terrible. Maybe it was one of the reformy conversation changers. But we've sailed way past "hugely insulting" all the way to "ridiculous." I hope Roberts didn't pay himself much, and I hope it hasn't taken up too much time to scrub the negative comments off their various pages. I look forward to more entries in the Granddad series, such as "Granddad Learns About Fluoridation," "Granddad Sets The Clock on His VCR," "Granddad Finds Out Where Grandma Went When She Went For Groceries Forty Years Ago and Didn't Come Back," and "Granddad Finds Out About That Those Gay Fellas Won't Give Him Cooties." There's no limit to how ignorantly patronizing this could get.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Antidote to Money

Money has poisoned many of the conversations in this country, shaping the debates about everything from wars in foreign lands to the future of American public education. Money has an unprecedented power to control the public discussion simply by taking control of the major media (which are, after all, contained within just six corporations).

Ironically, today there is also unprecedented power for ordinary citizens to circumvent the major media. And if you're reading me, you've seen it in action.

I produce this blog with a budget of $0.00, and yet every day, there are several thousand reads on these pages. And I'm not one of the big dogs in the education conversations. Diane Ravitch, Mercedes Schneider, Anthony Cody, Jose Luis Vilson, and I would go on and on but there are so many names I would break my blog-- so many people who have energized and informed the discussion of public education on a budget somewhere between slim and none.

Meanwhile, the Big Guns of Reformsterdom can whip up $12 million to start yet another in a long line of astro-turf faux activist reform-shilling websites in Education Post, claiming that they just want to renew the conversation. In just a few years, Common Core and its attendant circus of reform clown cars has gone from a sure thing and done deal to a subject so contentious and toxic that politicians who want a national profile can't back away from it fast enough (sorry, ex-next-President Jeb Bush). And the amazing part of that shift is that it represents a battle between heavily financed forces and a bunch of citizens with computers.

That's the one cool thing about this debate-- we don't have to raise money; we just have to raise awareness.

There are challenges. The folks standing up for public education represent a broad, broad, broad group, and it's no small challenge to represent every viewpoint within that wide band. While that can be a point of contention, it also, to me, represents the strength of pluralism which stands in contrast to the sometimes-BORGlike appearance of the reformsters. Add in the people who stand against the reform movement, but not necessarily in favor of public education, and you're talking about a large and varied group of viewpoints.

But the beauty and terror of the internet is that all these voices cannot be silenced. Not even as, time and time again, the major media fail to give them a voice.

The Resistance depends on us, all of us, to amplify each others' voices and to spread the word. It also depends on us to keep talking and growing and building toward newer and better understandings, even when we have disagreements, missteps, mistakes, and people in our corner that we wish would go away. It's much harder to do that than to simply pick up and pass along the latest think tank talking point. We have to keep talking, sharing, amplifying, and bringing the conversation back to what matters, even if the Big Bucks Media aren't with us. And with that in mind, here comes something special.

On Saturday, October 11, the Network for Public Education will present a live, on line event, featuring many of the prominent voices in the education debates speaking on many of the toughest issues of the field. See and hear many of the faces and voices that have not been included in education "conversations" in places like NBC's Education Nation.

This is not the change in conversation that many reformsters are asking for (though I believe that many reformster-minded folks will tune in and watch, with interest). But it will further the conversation. And it won't take $12 million dollars to make it happen, and even $120 million dollars couldn't keep it from happening. I encourage you to check out the details, make a contribution if you're so inclined, and plan to keep at least part of October 11 open to click in and watch and listen to people who aren't being paid huge amounts of money to talk about what they believe.

Education Next Plugs Research Proving Not Much of Anything

This week Education Next ran an article entitled "The First Hard Evidence on Virtual Education." It turns out that the only word in that title which comes close to being accurate is "first" (more about that shortly). What actually runs in the article is a remarkable stretch by anybody's standards.

The study is a 'working paper" by Guido Schwert of the University of Konstanz (it's German, and legit) and Matt Chingos or Brooking (motto "Just Because We're Economists, That Doesn't Mean We Can't Act Like Education Experts"). It looks at students in the Florida Virtual School, the largest cyber-school system in Florida (how it got to be that way, and whether or not it's good, is a question for another day because it has nothing to do with the matter at hand). What we're really interested in here is how far we can lower the bar for what deserves to be reported.

The researchers report two findings. The first is that when students can take on-line AP courses that aren't offered at their brick and mortal schools, some of them will do so. I know. Quelle suprise! But wait-- we can lower the bar further!

Second finding? The researchers checked out English and Algebra I test scores for the cyber-schoolers and determined that their tenth grade test results for those subjects were about the same as brick-and-mortar students. Author Martin West adds "or perhaps a bit better"  but come on-- if you could say "better" you would have. This is just damning with faint praise-by-weasel-words.

West also characterizes this finding "as the first credible evidence on the effects of online courses on student achievement in K-12 schools" and you know what? It's not. First, you're talking about testing a thin slice of tenth graders. Second, and more hugely, the study did not look at student achievement. It looked at student standardized test scores in two subjects.

I know I've said this before. I'm going to keep saying this just as often as reformsters keep trying to peddle the false assertion used to launch a thousand reformy dinghies.

"Standardized test scores" are not the same thing as "student achievement."

"Standardized test scores" are not the same thing as "student achievement."

When you write "the mugwump program clearly increases student achievement" when you mean "the mugwump program raised some test scores in year X," you are deliberately obscuring the truth. When you write "teachers should be judged by their ability to improve student achievement" when you mean "teachers should be judged by students' standardized test scores," you are saying something that is at best disingenuous, and perhaps a bit of a flat out lie.

But wait-- there's less. In fact, there's so much less that even West has to admit it, though he shares that only with diligent readers who stick around to the next-to-last paragraph.

The study is based on data from 2008-2009. Yes, I typed that correctly. West acknowledges that there may be a bit of an "early adopter syndrome" in play here, and that things might have changed a tad over the past five years, so that then conditions under which this perhaps a bit useless data was generated are completely unlike those currently in play. (Quick-- what operating system were you using in 2008? And what did your smartphone look like?)

Could we possibly reveal this research to be less useful? Why, yes-- yes, we could. In the last sentence of that penultimate graf, West admits "And, of course, the study is also not a randomized experiment, the gold standard in education research." By "gold standard," of course, we mean "valid in any meaningful way."

So there you have it. Education Next has rocked the world with an account of research on six-year-old data that, if it proves anything at all, proves that you can do passable test prep on a computer. And that is how we lower the bar all the way to the floor.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Why So Politicized?!

Education Post is beginning to look like an organization dedicated to the proposition that it takes an entire village to replace She Who Will Not Be Named. Though they have not yet announced plans to run a large urban school district into the ground, they are laboring mightily to make themselves a clearinghouse for all the top talking points for the Core and its attendant reformy barnacles.

They have taken to repeating an old favorite that has been coming back strong lately.

"Gosh," says the reformsters, shaking their heads ruefully. "Why is this discussion of the standards so politicized?" Why, they wonder, aren't we just focusing on the educational merits or, you know, the kids?

As it turns out, I think I have an answer for this one. Asking why the Common Core are wrapped up in politics is like asking why human beings are so involved with blood.

The Common Core were birthed in politics. They were weaned on politics. And every time they have looked tired and in trouble, they have been revived with a fresh transfusion of politics.

When David Coleman and Gene Wilhoit decided they wanted to standardize American education, they did not come up with a plan to sell such a program on its education merits. They called on Bill Gates to use his money and power to convince state governments to legislate systemic changes to education.

The states signed on to a Memo of Understanding (a political tool for out-politicking politics) and many of them did it before there were even any standards to look at. This was a political move, using the political power of legislatures and governors' offices to impose rules on educational systems-- in many cases, before educators in particular states even knew that such a systemic overhaul was being considered.

Common Core's Pappy, No Child Left Behind, was a creature of politics, right down to its spin-ready title. It was created to put a glossy shine on bipartisan action for the kids. Educators (and other people with rudimentary math skills) pointed out early on that the NCLB end game of 100% above average was ridiculously improbable, but the political shininess plus the political notion that future politicians would find a political solution drowned out good sense. Because, politics.

President Obama tried to use the need to re-authorize (aka rewrite) ESEA as leverage to get Congress to adopt some of his fave reformy ideas including Common Core, and when Congress was politically unable and unwilling to yield to White House political pressure, the President and Arne Duncan used a political rules trick to do a political end run around the political power of Congress to twist the arms of state legislatures.

And that arm twisting hasn't stopped. The political leverage has been brought to bear against states like Washington for not agreeing to judge teachers the way the federal politicians want them to. And every time waiver renewal season rolls around, we wait to see what local political modifications the national politicians will let go.

Meanwhile, on the state level, we see political gamesmanship in places like New Jersey and Louisiana, where the discussion is not about the educational efficacy of the reformster ideas, but the political power struggles involved. And that's before we even start talking about political power being used to crush teacher pay and job security, trash school funding, and gut districts so that political friends of the politically powerful can cash in on the charter bubble.

At no point in all this reformy baloney have we seen the spectacle of bottom-up reform, a reform movement driven by teachers and other educators saying, "Hey, we have some ideas that are so revolutionary and so great that they are spreading like wildfire strictly on their educational merits!"

No-- Common Core and its attendant test-driven high stakes data-glomming VAMboozling baloney have come from the top down, by politicians using political power to impose educational solutions through the political tools applied to the political structure of government. Why do people get the idea that all these reformy ideas are linked? Because they all come from the same place-- the linkage is the political power that imposed them all on the American public education system.

Look. We live in the real world and politics play a part in many things. But for some reformsters to offer wide eyes and shocked dismay and clutched pearls as they cry, "Oh, but why does it have to be so political!" is the height of hypocrisy. It's political because you folks made it political, every step of the way, and it's not humanly possible for you to be too dumb to know that (particularly at a site like Education Post that is larded with career political operatives). So if you want to have a serious conversation about any of this, Step One is to stop lying, badly, directly to our faces. I can't hear you when my bullshit detector alarm is screaming in my ear.

Friday, September 12, 2014

TNTP Proposes New Tenure Plan

TNTP, the Reimagine Teaching people and generators of plenty of fancy-looking reformy nonsense, have some more ideas for the post-Vergara world. They have decided to stake out a middle ground on the tenure wars, claiming that we don't need to eliminate it-- just fix it. And to that end, they have eight proposals to create "a more balanced system." It's all in this very fancy "paper," which I am now going to "respond to" in this "blog post."

1. Lengthen the Tryout Period

Awarding tenure after two years is too fast, say the reformsters. Let's make it five years.

Well, let me blunt. If your administrator can't tell whether someone's a keeper or not after two years, your administrator is a dope.

But why five years? Could it be because that will guarantee a more steady turnover, allowing us to pursue our goal of fewer (or none) career teachers, thereby reducing the costs of our school business (goodbye pay raises, and goodbye pension costs). As always, I'm really waiting for fans of the longer tryout period to wrap up their argument with, "...and that's why nobody should hire TFA short-timers ever."

2. Link Tenure to Strong Performance

Today, the only performance requirement for earning tenure is not being fired. In most districts, any teacher who remains on the payroll for a given amount of time is automatically tenure.

First of, depending on what you think constitutes being fired, this is basically saying that the only way to not get tenure is by not getting tenure, which is either very zen or very dumb. At any rate, I can tell you that my own small district has let teachers go prior to awarding tenure. But look-- there's a hugely weird hole in this argument. If your problem is that your district doesn't get rid of teachers during the years they don't have tenure, what possible good will it do to have more years of teachers not having tenure. If your administrators are too dopey to let poor tenureless teachers go, how will you fix that with more tenureless teachers??

Teachers should earn tenure only after showing they can consistently help their students make significant academic progress.

How dopey is this statement? Let me count the ways

1) Do you seriously want to claim that when it comes to your seven-year-old child, the only thing you want out of her teacher is to drag better test scores out of your offspring? That's it? Are you saying that when parents, particularly parents of small children, use the phrase "great teacher" that has no meaning beyond "teacher who got my child to score higher on those tests."

2) You have no idea how to tell if a teacher consistently helped students make significant academic progress. What you mean is, "teacher got standardized test scores to generate, via some invalid disproven VAM method, numbers that look good."

3. Make Tenure Revocable

"Teachers who earn poor evaluation ratings for two years in a row should not be allowed to keep tenure." So this suggestion means either A) tenure should not actually be tenure, which is absurd, or B) teachers with tenure should still be fireable, which is already the case. Next?

4. Focus Hearings on Students' Interests

This one starts out rather bizarrely. The argument is that while "just cause" hearings say they mean the district has to prove a good cause for dismissal, in practice, "districts have been held to a much higher standard." You would think a fancy thinky tank style paper might offer some support for that assertion, but you would be wrong.

TNTP claims that arbitrators often consider the possibility of remediation as a factor, and TNTP says that's like requiring courts to convict only if they think the defendant is both guilty and likely to  repeat. It's an odd complaint, given that the justice system is just riddled with places where punishment and rehabilitation wrestle for the upper hand. From the juvenile justice system (predicated strictly on rehab) up to three strikes laws (too many repeats and the punishment increases), the justice system is absolutely loaded with considerations of both rehab potential and recidivism. But TNTP is in a hurry to draw a line between not raising student standardized test scores and becoming a convicted criminal, so there we are.

TNTP wants the hearing to focus on the potential harm to students if the teacher went back to the classroom. So, um, wait-- the arbitrator should consider how likely it is that the teacher will do a bad job again? As the argument ouroboros disappears into its own mouth, TNTP does note that superintendents should come down hard on any principal abusing the process through incompetence or bad intent.

5. Make Hearings More Efficient

Quicker is what we're looking for here. I don't think anybody at all disagrees with the notion of speedy hearings. "I'm so happy that I get to wait even longer to find out what's going to happen to my entire professional career," said no teacher ever. TNTP wants hearings to take a day, because screw complicated situations or a need for either side to present all of their information. But keep the proceedings aimed at producing speedy results? I think we can all get on board with that in principle.

6. Hire Independent Arbitrators

Arbitrators depend on school districts and teachers' unions for their employment, and so might be inclined to keep everybody happy. TNTP suggests using hearing officers such a judges to hear cases, because those guys never come with any biases, and because the court system is bored and empty with hardly any other work to do.

TNTP's complaint is not without merit, but as with much of the tenure argument, it assumes that unions have a real interest in preserving the jobs of bad teachers. That's generally not true. Teachers' unions have an interest in preserving the process, in making sure that there's no precedent by which a district can fire a teacher just because, you know, everybody knows he ought to be fired. The union's interest is in making sure that the district does its homework. That's all. It's not unheard of for unions to be quietly happy that they lost one and that Mr. McAwfulteach is out of there. But the process must be preserved, because contrary to reformster lore, there are not a gazillion bad teachers clogging schools nationwide.

7. Stop Tolerating Abuse and Sexual Misconduct

Well, other than framing this as a "When did you stop beating your wife" fallacy, there's nothing to argue with here.

8. Lower the Professional Stakes for Struggling Teachers

We should be able to fire teachers without taking away their licenses. That way, presumably, principals won't be so reluctant to fire teachers, and they will do it more often because they won't be "concerned about ending the careers of teachers who might perform well in other circumstances."

Which is an odd phrase to throw in there. I'm just trying to imagine a situation in which a tenured teacher deserves to be fired from one school, but would be a great addition at some other school. I'm having trouble.

Unless what we're hypothetically here is the problem of high-poverty schools being career-enders under the reformster system. Because if you teach in a high-poverty school, you will have students whose standardized test scores, which means you will be judged to be ineffective, which means you will not get tenure or, perhaps, you will be fired for being ineffective. Given all that, nobody who understood the system would ever take a job in a high-poverty school ever. But if they knew that after they were inevitably fired, they could still get a job somewhere else, that would make it more appealing, maybe?

While TNTP's proposal has some worthwhile components, it still contains the basic outline of a system that throws out tenure and replaces it with a teacher employment system based on test results. That serves the interests of nobody (not teachers, students, taxpayers, citizens, or parents) except for folks who want to reimagine teaching as the sort of job that never becomes a lifetime career.