Tuesday, July 29, 2014

One True Path

In the midst of celebrating Coleman's awesomeness at Aspen, the architect of Common Core explained that he would keep aligning the world to the core

so that we are clearly showing kids and teachers that there's a path to college that extends from Kindergarten through twelfth grade.

This is one of the fundamental articles of faith for reformsters-- there is One True Path to a good life, to happy, healthy, productive adulthood. This idea-- along with its corollary (all happy, healthy, productive adult lives look pretty much the same)-- is so patently, observably false that I resist writing about it because I feel as if I'm using a slice of the internet to argue that grass is usually green. But as long as these guys keep saying it, we have to keep pointing out that it's wrong.

You've seen this cartoon

It's a pretty good representation except that even it shows the arrow coming out at the same place in the end, which is not necessarily the case.

Everybody knows a story like this-- I know a guy who went to college for music straight out of high school, only he turned out not to enjoy that so much, so he went to work as a grocery bagger and an ambulance driver. He eventually went back to school again, and now he's running the largest manufacturing business in my region. For good measure, we can also note that he was engaged a few times, none of which worked out, and is now married to a wonderful woman with whom he raised two exceptional children. 

Now, you tell me-- exactly how would a program of high stakes testing in his primary grades have "helped" him?

The notion that there is One True Path underpins many of the other dumb notions of reforminess. For instance, if there's just One True Path, then it's easy to just set up checkpoints along that path because everyone on the path will have to move past those checkpoints. This leads to a slavish defense of the checkpoints. "Hey, you!! Kid crawling through the underbrush! You can't blaze your own trail! You've got to come past this checkpoint." Before you know it, we're not really concerned about whether the student is headed for a successful life or not-- we just want to make sure he goes past the One True Path checkpoint.

Reformsters make mouth noises about personalization and individualization, but they don't mean that every student might take a different path. They mean that each individual student might be at a different point on the One True Path, or that some students walk down the One True Path faster than others. This is not really individualization. This is not about finding the right path for the student; it's about making the student adapt to the One True Path (and stick to the One True Schedule for walking down it).

If we believe in the One True Path, we see nothing ridiculous about claiming that we can tell whether you're on it when you're five years old. Hey, there's only one path. You're either on it or you're not, and as soon as you're old enough to take a test, we can find out if you're in place (Okay, fetus-- kick once for "A" and twice for "B"). Of course we can tell you whether your toddler is college  bound or not.

How is it that it has become a radical (or reactionary-- take your pick) position to argue that individual human beings are different, that they follow different paths, pursue different goals, achieve different things, find their happiness and success in different ways, and do it all in their own time. How did that become a controversial point of view?

One size does not fit all. All courtships follow a different path and all marriages grow and succeed (or not) in their own way. Children grow and achieve developmental milestones in their own way. People talk in their own ways. Not every person you ever kiss will kiss you the same way. This is all completely normal and in keeping with the design and function of human beings. 

In fact, learning to grow and become fully human, fully one's own self, is all about finding your own path, your own transportation, your own destination, and while it's nice to have a plan or a sense of direction, it's wise not to become to attached to the plan. All of human history, both large scale and small, tells us that this is what it means to be human-- there is no One True Path.

Monday, July 28, 2014

David Coleman Is Superman!

Politico dipped into the David Coleman at Aspen Ideas festival file and pulled out a quote in which Coleman admits that “I think then we make a great mistake by caricaturing the opponents of the standards as crazies or people who don't tell the truth." They call this "a big takeaway." They also catch Coleman admitting that it's no sign of great paranoia to be concerned about how individual student data is handled.

So has Politico discovered Coleman 2.0 (great taste, less filling), or has Politico simply made use of the magic of careful quote-clipping? I listened to the whole thirty minute clip so that you wouldn't have to, and you owe me.

The second portion of the Aspen Ideas talk has been previously covered in this space; it deals with super new marketing things happening with the College Board. What we're looking at today is the first fifteen minutes or so. And I have important news to report--

David Coleman is the Superman everyone has been waiting for.

The press opportunity is hosted by Jane Stoddard Williams, who telegraphs her position by characterizing the College Board's decision to hire Coleman as "brilliant."She also refers to him as maybe the main architect of the Common Core, and Coleman politely fails to correct her even to the extent of pointing out that there were a whole batch of math guys working while he handled the ELA side.

Williams also makes oblique reference to finally being able to get him to explain what's going on with Common Core " to the extent that he can" and that's definitely not a slam on his knowledge-- there's more a tone of talking to someone who's working on a super-classified modern-day Manhattan Project.

Coleman explains his current employment simply. College Board helped develop the Common Core and it was because of his involvement with the Core that they hired him.

So please expect that public leadership role to continue, and that means visibly aligning instruments like the SAT and AP so that we are clearly showing kids and teachers that there's a path to college that extends from Kindergarten through twelfth grade.

 Tougher than malaria

Williams tosses out the Gates quote about battling disease being easier than fixing schools. Coleman says that's unsurprising, and then he shares some "terrible facts." Which are mostly that in forty years of reforminess, we've not moved some test needles much at all. We've hit a wall.

Coleman imagines that Gates is bothered that he hasn't moved the needle enough, and Coleman thinks it's very brave and decent to admit that. And for those of you hoping to see Coleman 2.0, I'll point out that neither Coleman nor Williams addresses the question of why, in a democracy, a really rich private citizen should be taking on personal responsibility for a function of federal, state and local government without the benefit of, say, voters asking him to do so.

But trying to take on that wall-- that's what keeps Coleman up nights.

The burdens of poweriness

Williams wants to know how Coleman came to take all this on. She lists his achievements and colleges and that he's a Rhodes Scholar, to which he interjects "yes, I am" and she asks did he just wake up thinking "we need to get all the states to use the same standards." (So, in this narrative, the phone does not ring with someone calling him to ask him to come help with this standards thing that the states are already doing.)

Coleman, instead of answering that, meditates on power.

As people grow in supposed importance and power in the world, he says, they get self-destructive in how they use their time. "People think if they're important they don't have time to write their own speeches or spend extended time alone." Says Coleman, "Any good I have done has come out" of balancing time to allow him to be alone, thinking.

He went into business designing tests, but that wasn't satisfactory because the standards underpinning the tests were crappy. So he spent time alone, thinking. "One idea that I've been cultivating" was the idea of students doing fewer things, but really well.

Anyway, that's how he works. "It's almost embarrassing to admit how much time I need to spend alone... as part of trying to o anything good." And now I am imagining what Coleman's Fortress of Solitude looks like.

So Coleman is not just busy being a Great Man-- he is actually better at it than lots of other great men.

And that co-operation and collaboration thing? That's for ordinary mortals. Coleman just hatches great ideas out of his own head.

Setting the record straight

That's what Williams tries desperately to get Coleman to do. She steers from his process into the semi-question "So that's where the idea of the standards came from?"

Coleman tosses in "listening" as a technique (though he never says to whom) and then, again, tells us first the standard of greatness that he is going to surpass. There's something annoying about "the sanctity of the entrepreneur" he says. "The world was dark and then I came and there was light," is what those sanctimonious types say. But what Coleman understands that they do not is that entrepreneurship is about telling the truth. This is to introduce himself obliquely as David Coleman, Super-Truth-Teller.

Committees, he observes, suck. At the end, you put everybody's stuff in, and you get a big mess. The standards movement was failing because it was death by committee resulting in a huge vague swamp of standards. We are left to close the circle on that implication, that you need a Superman to leap tall committees in a single bound.

Williams tries again, noting that she knows he's reluctant to discuss this because it's fraught and he's humble. She tries citing the Layton WaPo article, asking him directly to set the records straight. And I'll walk you through the larger version of the answer in a second, but the short answer is "No."

Coleman wants us to know several things. The standards movement started a long time ago. We should decide things based on evidence and not Gates' or Coleman's personalities. And it's in the context of this answer that he provides the quotes about Common Core opponents not being all crazies.He sees many of these folks as principled and smart, and he appreciates the anxiety of parents who feel they've lost control of their children's educations. And he acknowledges that it's a wide range of people who are upset.

Coleman says he's resisting on setting the record straight because  he could take a stance of "Now I will tell the facts" and no one will care. He knows that "a person in my position is supposed to say look this was a group endeavor." But there are principled smart people who will still be worried. So he's not going to set the record straight.

Because....? I don't know. If a policeman pulls you over, do you say "I'm not going to explain. You'll just write me a ticket anyway." If your child says he can't sleep because of the monster under the bed, do you say, "I'm not going to bother telling you there's no monster because you'll still be anxious." Of course, if you have certain sorts of scruples, when your child asks, "Is Santa real?" you may avoid saying yes because you don't want to say something you believe is false.

Is it that Superman just doesn't owe us an explanation, or is Coleman unwilling to provide anything that could checked against facts or any of the forty-seven hundred versions of the Common Core origin story floating about? I don't know. I do know that Coleman was handed, on a platter, with golden platters on top, an opportunity to explain exactly where the Core came from, and he refused to give it (though, clearly, he knows exactly what the record really says).

Did you notice?

In a twenty-some minute chunk of audio interview about the Common Core, David Coleman did not mention another single human being, with the exception of Bill Gates. He did not once say some version of "Well, getting this huge project done would have been very challenging without the help of [insert names here] " He also did not once say, "For this part of the Core, I really leaned a lot on the work of researchers and writers such as [insert names here]." So much for clearly citing your sources and backing up your conclusions with data and evidence.

If you had just climbed out from under a rock, and this interview were your only exposure to the Core, you would have to assume that the Common Core Don't-call-them-state Standards were singlehandedly written by David Coleman, sprung from his own brain.

Why tug on Superman's cape?

It is not my intention to simply get my ad hominem on up in here. It's a distraction, and we could all do well to remember that good things are sometimes done by bad people and bad things are sometimes by good people. So David Coleman could be a Very Bad Man, and that would not rule out the possibility that the Core are a Swell Thing.

But if you don't take the medicine that you prescribe form others, others are justified in questioning the medicine. And this interview really highlights the degree to which Little Davey Coleman and his Common Core project would get a failing grade in a Common Core classroom.

Likewise, if you keep changing your story, you make it hard to believe whatever the new story is.

And. And this is a huge and. As a private citizen, you don't get to usurp the functions of government just because you went off to your Fortress of Solitude and had a big think. I don't care how rich or powerful you are, you don't get to just walk over to the Pentagon and say, "I'm going to go ahead an re-organize the armed forces." You don't get to walk into your local city hall and declare, "I just decided to change how the various city departments function."

These sorts of interviews are worth paying attention NOT as a way to say, "Oooooo! That David Coleman is so terrible," but because they provide one more window through which to see that the process that brought is the Core is just as flawed and amateur and unsupported and unsubstantiated and anti-democratic as we thought it was.

So yeah, Coleman changed his story a bit-- we opponents are not crazy, just scared. But don't imagine that a shift on that point signals any kind of exposure to kryptonite. Superman has not yet left the building.

Seasoned Teachers Not Getting Filthy Rich

In other news, scientists anticipate the sun rising in the East tomorrow morning.

Okay, this might actually be news to some folks. To listen to the merit-based pay crowd, you would think that we are currently throwing bales of teachers based on years of experience. But an issue brief  released last week by the Center for American Progress suggests that in many states that's simply not true.

"Mid- and Late-Career Teachers Struggle with Paltry Incomes," authored by Ulrich Boser and Chelsea Straus, opens with the tale of Richie Brown, a former teacher of the year candidate and "the type of teacher every principal should want." Brown left at the end of six years because he couldn't support his family, having gone several years without a raise at all.

Brown, of course, was teaching in North Carolina (motto: "We hate teachers and hope they will go away"), but Boser and Straus show that North Carolina is not so much an outlier as a trendsetter. Here are their findings.

Mid- and Late- career teacher base salaries are painfully low in many states.
Here's where the paper throws in the striking stats that truck drivers, sheet metal workers, and flight attendants make more than 10 or 15 year teaching veterans in some states.

In some states, ten year teachers who are breadwinners often qualify for various aid programs.

Large numbers of teachers work second jobs. The paper keeps using the term "base salary" to distinguish the teachers' teaching income from their total annual income, which may include their work at other glamorous jobs.

The paper provides two charts that help provide context. Here's one that shows salary growth by state between the first year and the tenth.
 And since people do so love to compare us based on international data from the OECD, here's a chance to do that
Though I will gladly note with pride that we beat Estonia on this one.

The authors note that this is probably part and parcel of the general downturn for the entire middle class. 

But what we can also note here is that we are not exactly pouring money into the salary raise pool. Which raises a couple of questions.

For one-- what exactly does the merit pay crowd propose to do. If the intention is to base raises on performance, will it really help if the merit-based raises are just as paltry and inadequate as the raises given for longevity? CAP uses its conclusions to make a case for more merit- and assignment-based bonuses, but this remains a pipe dream. Merit and bonus pay will not work. Beyond the issues of evaluating teacher worthiness of such bonuses, there is a more fundamental problem. Businesses pay bonuses out of the extra money they made by having a good year. School districts do not make extra money, and no school board in the country is going to go to its taxpayers and say, "Our teachers did so very well this year that we need an extra couple mill to give them the merit bonuses they deserve." CAP's data are interesting; their proposed solution is bogus.

The other big question is the same old one. Exactly how do you attract people to a profession that does not promise the ability to provide an actual life, like a grown-up family-supporting adult? 

That question itself is premature, because it assumes that reformsters want to do that. The lack of career-level salary scales may well be yet another indicator that for some folks, the goal is not to attract people to teaching, but to turn teaching into a temporary job that people do for a year or two before moving on, providing schools with a cheap pensionless labor force. If that's the goal, it would appear many states are right on track.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Teachers Should Be Paid Less ??!!

Over at the Federalist, Jason Richwine has produced a spectacularly bad piece of thought leadership entitled "Why We Shouldn't Raise Teacher Pay." (h/t to Curmudgucator Shannon Jenkins). It's just as bad as you think it will be.

So why should we look at it.

Often, the bad arguments circulating the world of thinkiness are tucked away, hidden in the midst of not-entirely-stupid things. They are the tetanus-encrusted rusty needles in a stack of reasonably-healthy hay. Dealing with these arguments often involves teasing the rotten parts out of their surroundings. So it can be helpful to get a clear look at them, unencumbered by anything sensible. Dumb, in its naked unadulterated form. If we can get a good look at the rusty needle, we are better prepared to recognize it in the haystack.

Jason Richwine has kindly presented us with a hay-free rusty needle.

Our starting problem

Richwine notes that Vergara has now made it "possible to pry the least-effective teachers from their sinecures" by removing the "barrier" of tenure and reformsters now face the challenge of replacing them with "new and better" teachers? But how do we attract them?

It’s not so easy. Even without the tenure obstacle, putting the best teachers in the classroom is a more challenging problem than many reformers will admit. One of the most common reformist prescriptions is raising teacher pay to attract stronger applicants. The logic seems simple, even obvious. But raising teacher pay will not work. In fact, it could be counter-productive. The reason lies not just with the well-known difficulty in predicting who will be a good teacher, but also with the entrenched hiring system of public schools.

We're already on the wrong track

Richwine starts in by saying that teachers are already paid too much. He cites an AEI report from 2011, and the report's conclusion, which I will now oversimplify, is that the old "teachers make less than other highly educated college grads" is bogus. We need to compare teachers to other similarly-educated grads-- in other words, teachers. Put another way, teacher income can't be compared to engineer income because the teacher didn't learn how to be an engineer.

However, public school teachers do make more than private school teachers, ergo, public school teachers are overpaid. Public school teachers do make less than other college-educated professions, but that's because they're teachers. It's their own damn fault.

So teachers are already overpaid and underperforming, so giving raises would not help. Unless, you know, it encouraged more top people to get a college education to become teachers in the first place.

School's turn down the brightest applicants

Richwine now presents us with a rusty needle the size of the Eiffel Tower.

He is puzzled-- deeply puzzled-- that when presented with the best and brightest with super-duper GPAs and specialized training from the Very Best Schools, school districts don't hire them. He cites Vanderbilt economist Dale Ballou's study (sadly behind a paywall), and he offers this daunting observation.

An education degree was generally preferred even for applicants preparing for a secondary-school position.

Yes, those damn schools keep hiring people with teaching credentials for teaching jobs.

No one knows for sure why this happens, but perhaps it’s the institutional culture of public schools.

Well, yes. I notice that the institutional culture of hospitals leads to hiring doctors and nurses with actual doctor and nurse training. Lawyers offices are also pre-disposed to hire people based on having attended law school. On top of that, many schools operate in states that actually require teaching credentials to get a teaching job, so go figure.

Richwine's point is pretty clear. Smart people with college degrees are better teachers than people who have trained to become teachers.

And let's look at two other dumb assumptions packed into this complaint:

1) Having the best GPA makes you a teacher.

It's true. If you don't understand a concept, you're probably not going to teach it very well, or at all. But it does not follow that having a superior understanding of the subject means you can teach it well. Is there anybody who doesn't have a story about a teacher or professor who was brilliant in his field, but who couldn't teach worth a damn?

The assumption here is that being knowledgeable is the only piece needed to complete the teacher puzzle. Once you totally understand the subject, teaching it to other people is a nothing, an afterthought, on a par with breathing. You just, you know, do it. If you got good grades in college, that is good enough.

2) Teaching is not an actual skill set.

There are skills sets, bodies of knowledge, and bridges between the two that teachers need to know. If I think teaching is like breathing, then it seems silly to talk about sending someone to school to learn about it. But if teaching requires learning and practice in techniques, then I need somebody who has those skill sets. And I have to believe that those skill sets exist.

But, Richwine asks, even if the entrenched educational biases can't be overcome, might it not make sense to pay more and then attract a larger pool, from which the best could be selected. No, Richwine answers, it would not.

Higher teacher pay equals lower teacher quality

Is there an economist specialization in Undercutting Public Education with Wonky Stats Juggling? Because Richwine is going to cite Ballou and another economist named Michael Podgursky who determine that higher pay lead to lousier teachers. Their reasoning goes something like this:

     * Higher pay = less retirement as teachers stick around for $$
     * Higher pay = more applicants
     * More applicants = less chance of single applicant getting job
     * Lower chance of getting job = fewer people going into teaching

And here comes the important conclusion--

     * The people who are discouraged from going into teaching will be the smart, capable ones, while the sucky ones will stay. In other words, Richwine is offering up a fancy version of "Those who can't, teach."

Richwine offers a thought-experiment anecdote in which a mediocre lady goes into teaching because, apparently, failed teachers can always get into an administration job. But a smart man could be an engineer instead, so his opportunity cost is greater, because if he doesn't get to be a teacher, he'll have lost the chance to be an engineer. Also, he's smart to assume that since he's smart and capable, he will not be considered by schools. Because schools absolute hate hiring capable teachers.

This scenario is somehow completely different from a situation where the smart man considers teaching but decides that he can't hope to support a family or have a complete career (thanks to the handy way that Vergara removed the "barrier" of tenure and job security), and so he decides to be an engineer instead because that way he can make a freaking living.

You see, any engineer could be a teacher, but as noted above, teachers could never have been engineers.

So what does Richwine think the answer is?

Well, Richwine has consulted the work of still more economists, and his answer is this:

Lower the entry requirements to become a teacher.

That's it. Just let anybody who has a bachelor's degree become a teacher, and then once you've got them in a classroom, take your time to sort them out. And make it really hard to get tenure.

Seriously? Let's look at some of the ways this is dumb.

First, flinging wide the gates to enter the profession would have one immediate effect-- greatly increasing the pool of applicants. But just a couple of paragraphs ago, Richwine assured us that a larger pool of applicants was a Very Bad Thing that would lower quality by scaring away people who had better prospects in other fields. Plus-- remember-- we'd really like to lower the salary for teachers, which will also likely lower the applicants who have aspirations to, say, make a living in North Carolina (spoiler alert-- you can't do it by teaching). So whether you use my argument or Richwine's, this seems like a Bad Move.

Second, in a Richwine school, we're going to use students as employment testing tools. "Hey, kids, based on his BA in Math, we're going to let Mr. Schlubster try teaching you calculus for a year. If it turns out he's not really any good at it, too bad for you. With any luck we'll catch it before he screws up next year's class."

Are there first-year certified teachers who trash an entire year's worth of students? Sure. But Richwine's Just Let Anybody with a Pulse Teach program guarantees far more disasters as untrained pretend teachers experiment on students who were hoping to get an actual education. This is absolutely NOT student centered schooling.

What will have to happen for Richwine's vision to come true?

The creeping emphasis on credentials must be reversed. School administrators must be willing to hire promising applicants who never received the standard education-school training. Objective evaluation systems must be adopted and refined. All parties must become comfortable with a process that will increase teacher turnover. 

"Become comfortable" with teacher turnover? So, a situation that tends to destabilize schools and hurt student learning is just a minor discomfort we have to adjust to, like a bad car heater in the winter.

In the meantime, I look forward to widespread adoption of his ideas. Law firms offering less and less money to new grads. Corporation announcing, "We will not offer bonuses this year because, quality." Why is it that absolutely nobody anywhere in any sector of the economy believes that lowering salaries is the best way to get more quality. Could it be that Richwine's idea is...well , dumb?

PS. Who is Jason Richwine?

Richwine is a policy analyst in DC who used to work for the Heritage Foundation. You may remember him from his Harvard PhD dissertation. Richwine is the guy who argued that immigrants are genetically hampered by low IQ's, and that the US should screen to keep them out (but hide it behind a political smokescreen). His is a name worth knowing, if only to avoid it. He has a blog loaded with plenty of reformsters baloney. He is a man who appears to lack skills in hiding his rusty needles.

Bottom line

This is the argument for TFA writ large. We don't need trained teachers. We don't need to pay teachers well. All we need is a steady stream of BA-holders who will pass through schools by teaching for just a few years. They'll be cheaper, they won't unionize, and we won't have to finance pensions for them. They will probably mostly suck, but at least they'll pass through the system quickly without requiring much of it. And since we've lowered the "barrier" of tenure, if any of them accidentally turn out to be a problem, we can just fire them.

Pearson Set Cut Scores for NYS

Over at lohud, actual journalists like Gary Stern have been working long hours trying to pry loose some facts from the state of New York, and it's worth the while of folks from all states to see what they've dug up because it's a bright red warning flag about how the CCSS-linked testing program actually works.

Gannett Publishing had to pry open the state with a large, legal-sized crowbar just to get the names of the 95 individuals who set the cut scores for New York's test. Of those 95, only 18 would speak, which was in itself a bit of a brave things since they all signed a confidentiality agreement. Because, remember children, when you hear reformsters calling for transparency, they only mean for teachers and test results. Tests themselves and everything going into creating the scores must remain locked under super double-secret pinky swear security.

While nothing that came out of the reporting was a huge surprise, that doesn't mean it wasn't appalling. For instance

Pearson set the cut scores for the test

Turns out that saying the committee set the cut scores for the exam is a bit of a Not True Thing. Here's Tina Good, a panelist from Suffolk Community College.

"We worked within the paradigm Pearson gave us," she said. "It's not like we could go, 'This is what we think third-graders should know,' or, 'This will completely stress out our third-graders.' Many of us had concerns about the pedagogy behind all of this, but we did reach a consensus about the cut scores."

You might think that this process would involve teachers saying, "Okay-- a three is supposed to be the bare minimum for college-ready. So what would a three look like? What would we, in our trained professional opinion, consider the minimum that we would expect to see in order to give a student that score?" But apparently you would be mistaken.

In brief, panelists were assigned to small groups that looked at several grades' exams in math or English language arts. They were given detailed descriptions of what students should know in each grade — prepared by state officials and experts from Pearson Inc., the mega-corporation signed to create New York's tests.

From a separate article in the series:

Panelists' comments were enlightening. Much of the data, including information on what kind of results could be equated with "college success," were supplied by Pearson, the testing conglomerate that has contracted with the state to produce the tests, and much of the material teachers rely on as the state transitions to Common Core.

Panelists weren't deciding a thing. They were doing clerical work.

In other news

Many of us tend to assume that the CCSS boosters who decry current testing are simply trying to save their baby from its dangerously vulnerable conjoined twin. Meet Karen DeMoss, education professor from Wagner College.

"Our process was perfectly fine, and the Common Core standards may be the best thing the country has ever had in education," DeMoss said. "The problem is the underlying assumption that these tests are helping us. They're not. Pearson's tests were unbelievably bad, the worst I've seen, and the reality of using tests designed to rank students is something we haven't gotten our heads around."

 It's exceptionally sad that an education professor thinks CCSS are great, but nice that she recognizes that there's an assumption that the tests help when they don't.

And then there's the process itself

"It's like you're jumping over a hurdle that's 2 feet high, but after you jump they say it was 3 feet and you missed," said Cary Grimm, another panelist who is math chairman for the Longwood school district on Long Island.

In fact, among the CCSS supporters who spoke (and really-- did you think NYS would fill this committee with people who didn't love the Core), there was a recognition that the implementation is a hash and the tests are a bogus joke. Yes, they haven't figured out that what we've got is exactly what the Core were designed to give us, but at least they recognize some of the suckage, and not simply from a practical political calculus angle (and remember-- everyone must take calculus now). This is undoubtedly part of the reason that CCSS enjoys the kind of support in NYS usually reserved for politicians who cannot keep their private parts off the internet.

It's an illuminating batch of reportage, well worth your time to read. Because you may not live in New York, but wherever you are in America, you're still living in the United States of Pearson.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

College Students vs. Faux Journalism

HuffPo recently ran what could be called a graphics-rich story (basically two big graphics plus captioning) that is sure to have some folks sounding the alarm bell, and there's no question that the data are striking.

The basic takeaway is this-- in no states in the US do the majority of students finish college in four years. Virginia is up top with 46%, with Nevada and DC bringing up the rear at 8.75% and 3% respectively. There's also a graphic for six-year graduation rate, but that picture isn't very pretty, either.

Of course, what's missing from the story is some perspective. So with some very quick and unsubtle help from my research assistant, Dr. von Google, I checked to see if this looked any worse than the US track record. I did nothing more strenuous than what any person with a computer, a desk, and a half hour to kill (or spend researching a story) could do.

Here's a 2010 piece by our old friend Kevin Carey at the awesomely named blog The Quick and the Ed. The title gives away the game-- "U.S. College Graduation Rate Stays Pretty Much Exactly the Same."

Carey makes two points. One is that looking at percent of adults with college degrees doesn't show much movement in the US over time-- about 30% "four year" degrees plus another 10% associate degrees. That fits with this 2002 chart from the OECD that shows US degrees are about the same for both the young generation and the older.
Carey's second point is that getting graduation rates in X years is hard because colleges generally know who finished at their own school, but not whether their drop outs successfully finished college elsewhere. Carey then goes on to explain the rather convoluted means by which federal statisticians come up with such a figure, depending on something called BPS.

The source for the infographics was a site called Find the Best which is a fun little site that crunches numbers for everything under the sun. But my search of the site turned up neither this particular project not the methodology for it-- all we know is that they used IPEDS data. So, grains of salt at the ready.

I found other interesting charts and data sets, like this one looking at college completion rates for African American students/athletes

That came from the same article as this chart, with the article acknowledging that students who droped ou and finished elsewhere counted against the institution at which they started.

And an abstract of this paper  for just a couple years back which I am sure to revisit, that suggests a couple of things:

    * From 1979 to 1997 there is a growing gap between rich and poor students in terms of college entrance, persistance, and graduation
    * There is also a growing gender gap-- women are outpacing men
    * However, the inequity gap grew much more sharply among women than men

Or there's this graphic, from CAP of all places

In fact, simple straightforward data about college completion rates is not all that prevalent, suggesting that this yet another conversation we're having without the benefit of lots of facts.

But more than that, I want to point out that once again, we're looking at lazy reporting. It has been literally forty-five minutes since I sat down and started working on this story. How hard would it be for someone who is doing journalism as their actual Real Job to spend some time adding some context, nuance and data to a story instead of just saying, "Wow-- cool graphics. And I can write the whole story in one sentence." Yes, I realize criticizing HuffPo journalistic standards is a little like criticizing Arctic beaches, but being HuffPo is not an excuse to be lazy.

This is a complicated issue, from the assumptions we start with (exactly why is it critical that a college degree be completed in four years) to the data we look at (how can we really know how many people started and finished when they move around so much). It deserves more than a quick couple of infographics that by themselves don't tell us much of anything.

Friday, July 25, 2014

How Much Money Is Tenure Worth?

Economist Allison Schrager is quoted over at Yahoo putting forth the idea that tenure is worth cold hard cash.

Certainly this is not the first time the idea has been introduced. She Who Will Not Be Named tried in DC to introduce a plan to have a non-tenure big-buck track. This failed to get traction, perhaps because it's hard not to see trading tenure for big bucks as being synonymous with trading a an actual career for just one more year of teaching. And in North Carolina (motto "We're the Seventh Circle of Teacher Hell, but We Want To Dig Deeper") the money-for-tenure trade has been offered as well. Of course, the problem there is that the legislature has no idea where the money for the tenure-buyout-bonuses would come. I imagine a sort of reverse Ponzi scheme-- once they get things get going, they can pay this year's tenure-buyout-bonus by firing the teachers who have no tenure because they took the bonus last year. There's no way it can fail.

So it's possible that tenure could have monetary value to teachers, but maybe that the value is currently equal to all the money they expected to make during the rest of their career, because that's what taking one of these tenure-for-cash deals would cost them-- the rest of their careers. DC schools were never going to keep teachers on at $130K a year for thirty years.Take a pay raise, then take a hike.

Kudos to Yahoo for not simply repeating Schrager's Bloomsburgh column (though they didn't link to it, either), but pulling in Alan Singer to point out, politely, that Schrager's idea is fully stuffed with bovine fecal matter.

What we call tenure is, of course (and I say "of course" even though the world is full of people who seem not to know this), a job protection that guarantees due process, so that teachers cannot be fired for disagreeing with a school board member or administrator.

Ultimately, Singer said, from the teachers’ point of view, “freedom and money are not equivalent. Freedom should never be exchanged for money.”

I'm going to agree with Schrager here. I think tenure is a valuable benefit that is worth actual money. But here's where we part ways-- I would argue that tenure has monetary value to the school district.

Tenure helps insure the school district as an entity that a school cannot be trashed by a single disastrous individual. Whether we are talking about a bad principal or a egregious board member, tenure gives the school district a buffer, a way to protect its teachers and thereby protect its mission. Tenure is why parents in districts rarely say, "Well, Bogswallow High used to be a great place, but we had a principal who came in, fired all the best teachers and replaced them with his buddies, and now it sucks." Tenure is why parents rarely say, "Don't bother trying to get anything done about it. Everybody who works at that school is so scared of Board Member McCrazypants that they won't say or do a thing."

Yes, yes, yes, that kind of thing happens right now in some places. That's my point. How much worse would it be if there were no tenure, if teachers could not say, "You can try to make me miserable, but you can't take my job."

Tenure has value to districts in helping them avoid the costs of replacing staff, of recruiting replacements, of dealing with all the internal problems that would come with a staff that does not feel safe to use the full range of their professional skills and judgment. Tenure saves school districts money. It has monetary value to them, and because it costs them nothing to give it to teachers, it is a huge bargain.