Friday, July 20, 2018

Fixing Education Journalism

I'm not going to attempt the entire fix in just one post. But Amanda Ripley wrote a thought-provoking piece about "Complicating the Narratives" in which she discusses how journalists need to apply the lessons about human psychology in conflict to how they cover issues (Ripley often covers education). Alexander Russo wrote an ed-centric piece in response to her piece, interviewing her for a bit more clarification. I'm just going to add my two further down the food chain. I'm going to cut some corners here because both of those pieces are pretty hefty; if you want a fuller picture, follow those links (I also recommend Paul Thomas's blog, where these issues are regularly discussed).
Hey! Look what isn't mentioned!

Ripley offers six steps to improve education journalism:

1. Amplify contradiction
2. Widen the lens
3. Ask questions that get to people's motivations
4. Listen more, and better
5. Expose people to the other tribe
6. Counter confirmation bias (carefully)

And that list isn't bad, though I don't think it's complete. But Russo gets my ears to perk up with this observation:

Those of us who write about education may think of ourselves as objective seekers of the truth, but we choose and frame and report our stories in ways that aren’t always as self-reflective as may be necessary. In the process, we may be allowing ourselves to be used by polarizing forces that want us to take up their causes, playing the role of the kids goading classmates to fight rather than the role of translators we aim to be.

Well, yes. Russo quotes Ripley suggesting part of a solution:

Education journalists tend to hover around a conflict, throwing gasoline on it every 20 minutes or so but never asking…’What’s driving people to have these very predictable positions?'

And yes, there is the usual journalistic focus on conflict, coupled with the addiction to false equivalencies (e.g. creationism and science are just two equally valid points of view, which-- no, they aren't). Focusing on motivations would, indeed, be helpful-- exactly why is this person pushing a particular point of view? Exactly why is this other person disagreeing?

But for me, this all nibbles around the edges of some critical issues in education coverage.

If I could add to Ripley's list, I would add this:


Maybe I'd underline it, too.

One of the things that drives me absolutely bonkers is the widespread, absolutely unquestioned use of terms such as "student achievement" and "teacher effectiveness" in placer of the more accurate "standardized test scores." This is no more sensible than referring to pro-choice activists as "anti-baby" or using alcohol consumption figures as an "American happiness index." But by using the terminology, journalists helped cement the unsupported notion that standardized test results are a good proxy for educational achievement just as surely as writers of an earlier era sold a particular point of view by always preceding the word "Communist" with "godless." Seriously-- I cannot overstate how much this bugs me. Most of the architecture of ed reform is built on the assumption that these tests are valid, are being used for their correct purpose, and generate hard data. And ed journalists just keep pushing those assumptions without ever examining whether they are valid. Examine those assumptions.

Too many ed journalists also amplify and repeat the notion that the ed debates involve just two sides. It doesn't really matter what you identify as the two "sides"-- as soon as you've decided there are only two, you are in trouble. You're ignoring some important parts of the debate. Examine those assumptions.

Ripley and Russo like the idea of talking to actual students, and talking to actual teachers would be great, too. But journalists always need to question who selected the people they're talking to. Teachers who have been awarded certain honors have been chosen to reflect the values of whoever is awarding those honors, and students are often hand-picked so that only the "good" ones are shown to the public.

To Ripley's list I would also add this:

8. All sides are not equal.

Yes, if journalists pay attention to Ripley's six suggestions, they should sort of stumble into this. But the education debates are unique in how mismatched the players are.

Pushing various forms of ed reform are organizations with vast resources, huge piles of money to throw at the issues. There are people out there being paid handsomely to do nothing but write and talk about how awesome various ed reform ideas would be. There are entire organizations that have been set up to do nothing except push an ed reform policy. And when billionaires like Bill Gates place a call to Important People to explain why, say, Common Core should be a thing, their calls are answered.

There is nothing similar on the pro-public ed side. Ed reform advocates like to point to the unions as equally as powerful as the various billionaires and corporations, but the union positions are a bit more complicated, and not always solidly on the side of public ed  (e.g. the leadership support for Common Core over rank and file objections). The rest of the pro-public ed side is made up of people like me-- folks who are advocating, in their spare time, for free. Folks who don't have great media connections and who, because they have a real day job, are not easily available for a quick quote or timely interview. Education continues to be one of the few journalism areas where actual practicing experts in the field are rarely consulted.

Education journalists have been really really really really REALLY slow to recognize that much of the education "news" coming across their desks is actually PR from people with vested business interests in whatever piece of "news" is being sold. And most of them have not developed the contacts in the teacher world that would allow them to say, "Hey, could you look at this and tell me if it smells funny?" Journalists repeatedly fail to ask the critical questions because they lack the expertise (which is not a failure on their part) and they lack contacts with the needed expertise (which is). So dozens of journalists write pieces about charter schools that send all their graduates to college without ever asking how many students in the original ninth grade cohort were washed out before they could become graduates.

That pushing is coming primarily from the folks with the money. Guys like me do not have an available mechanism for pushing our story ideas to mainstream ed journalists. I mean, I suppose I could, but as it is I'm trying to finish this post before my babies wake up from their nap.)

There are some people out there doing good work in the world of education journalism, and it's great that conversations like the one Ripley kicked off are going on. It's a much more complicated field to cover than it was twenty-five years ago, and many editors have not caught on to that ("Hey, Freshface McNewby-- why don't you go get your feet wet by covering education! Who's your team? Why, that would be you!").

Ed journalism can be better-- much better-- and Ripley has opened up a worthwhile conversation. Let's hope it actually helps.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

How To Build a Teacher

Now that we're talking about teacher residencies again, let me trot out my own teacher training, because I think it's a model for how teachers can be created. Then I'll tell you why it's probably not going to happen.


I attended Allegheny College, a small liberal arts college that, at the time, had a bit of a personality disorder (on paper, a liberal arts school and in practice, a pre-med, pre-law school). The school is located in northwest Pennsylvania. My graduating class had about 400 people in it. The education program was tiny (there were about eleven of us in my graduating class), but it was unusual.

Undergrad Prep

My Bachelors degree is in English, not education. The first principle of the program was that I should be an expert in my content area. I took about two education courses before I student taught. I was required to do some volunteer field work, including some sort of activity in a local school (I taught King Arthur to a high school class and Beowulf to a handful of gifted third graders) plus some sort of work with students in any setting (I helped out with the youth group at a local church). So we needed to have some acquaintance with the species of human students, and we had to be well-versed in the subject area we planned to teach.

This was definitely better than the student teachers I have received from local colleges, many of whom had basically no more than a high school education in the subject matter-- meaning they literally knew very little more than my students in class. This is a recipe for Bad Things. Classroom Management Rule #1: Know what the heck you're talking about.

Student Teaching

Student teaching for Allegheny folks happened in Cleveland. Before I student taught, Allegheny placed teachers in Cleveland City Schools, but it was the 1970s and the taxpayers kept voting down referendums which meant the schools kept closing in October when they ran out of money for that calendar year, and that was a bit too unstable for the college's tastes. So I taught in Cleveland Heights (Wiley Jr. High).

While student teaching, we all lived in apartments in a building at the corner of E9th and Superior (it's a hotel now). The college also rented several conference rooms, and most nights of the week we took education classes there, including methods for our specific disciplines as well as general ed classes.

I cannot begin to tell you how powerful it is to sit in a methods class and , instead of discussing what might happen some day in some hypothetical classroom, to talk about what happened to me today in my classroom, or what I am planning for that classroom tomorrow. Several of the classes were taught by working teachers-- not college professors.


That model of taking education classes just hints at the support the program provided. One of the classes was taught by the same professor who visited us in our classrooms. And unlike the typical twice-a-semester drive-bys that many student teachers get, my supervisor saw my usually once a week, for a couple of hours. So that once again, in his methods class, we could talk about very specific issues and very specific solutions while still looking at the larger picture. We could talk about issues specific to my own style in the classroom.

The Graduate Program

By the time all this was happening, we had to be accepted to the colleges Masters of Arts in Education program. That meant we went straight from graduation to summer school, where we took more high-level education courses and had the opportunity to take elective courses in areas where we thought we could use a boost.


The most nerve-wracking part of the program came next-- we needed a teaching job within forty miles of down town Cleveland. That's because our employers would view us a first-year teachers, but the college viewed us as interns. We had to be near Cleveland because a couple times a month we would drive in to that field office for classes, and the same professor who supervised us in student teaching now supervised us in our first year of teaching. Not as often by any means-- but that extra support through the first year is invaluable (particularly if, like me, you started your first year with a six week strike).

Some additional coursework over the next few years, and we were done, with a degree and teaching credentials for both Ohio and Pennsylvania.


Just one big one-- the huge cost. If you were paying attention to the numbers, you noticed two professors (one elementary, one secondary) based in Cleveland, a couple of rooms rented for a field office, and some part time faculty for those courses, all for just eleven students. The college ultimately decided that it couldn't afford to keep the program, and so they axed it.

In connection with a residency discussion, someone brought up the question of who pays the cost, and that remains a problem in teaching. Too many schools are trying to stay solvent by doing mass business in teacher preparation, but you can't mass-produce good teachers any more than you can mass-produce good doctors or nurses. It takes some personal mentoring and support. Allegheny's model co-opted the school district for my first year/internship, because I was a paid staffer. But nobody was paying the college extra to run a department with the highest prof-student ratio on campus.

Training teachers better than we do now means spending more than we do now, and where will that money come from? School districts that pay for a first teacher draft pick, sight unseen, a few years from now? More money from the government that won't adequately support education now? Do colleges make the education department more expensive to get into? None of these seem likely.

Finding a way to involve active or retired classroom teachers seems promising-- after all, we have a huge workforce of practicing experts in this field. But how that works out practically I do not know.

What I do know is the list of elements needed for a good teacher prep program-- strong foundation in content, strong support during student teaching, and strong support on into the first year or two in the field. Plus, in some states, a way to get potential co-operating teachers past the question, "Do I dare take a student teacher when my own career depends on these kids' test scores?"

It can be done, but it won't be cheap. Which is why it probably won't be done. But if a few more programs could even inch a bit in the right direction, it would help.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Where Are The Robot Teachers?

This week Neil Selwyn (Monash University) turned up on the website of the British Educational Research Association with "Robots in the Classroom? Preparing for the automation of teaching,"
a title which poses a question and then skips over the really long discussion that question ought to prompt. 

Fifty years after Stanley Kubrick introduced cinemagoers to HAL9000, the prospect of a robot-infused world still feels more science fiction than social fact. Yet robots are steadily beginning to impact on the nature of contemporary work. Industries such as circuit-board manufacturing and underground mining now rely on automated, mechanised robots. Elsewhere, intelligent systems are prompting forecasts of the ‘end of the professions’ and declining need for human doctors, lawyers and accountants. High-tech automation is now a real proposition across many sectors of work and employment.

One notable exception to this trend is education. 

Selwyn notes that "it is generally assumed" that teaching is going to be done by humans. But that assumption, he suggests, is tied to the "continued dominance of mass schooling." But advances in artificial intelligence, robotics and machine learning should change that. Why are people pushing classroom robots. Well...

There is clearly growing corporate impatience to reform what are perceived as outdated and inefficient school systems. Calls for the automation of classroom teaching are often driven by desires to ‘reboot’ 20th century school systems that business interests suspect are no longer fit for purpose.

Without discussing exactly which "purpose" we're talking about, Selwyn connects this push to "growing political disgruntlement" with the teaching profession. Robot teachers would help disrupt unions and the profession as a whole.

He notes the wide range AI products out there, and the ability to "capture over a million data-points per user," without questioning if that might also be a motivator for business as well as a huge threat to the privacy of the children themselves.

But it's the non-response of the profession that seems to bother him. Why, given the momentum of the robot onslaught, is there not "greater consternation throughout education." Why is education as a sector not spending more time preparing for the arrival of our robot overlords.

There are plenty of reasons not to get excited about the robots. For one, the industry itself is questioning the AI developers themselves. A recent sciencemag.coim piece focuses on Ali Rahimi, a Google researcher who got a huge ovation at an AI conference for charging that machine learning algorithms have become a form of "alchemy." Researchers can't reproduce results and many developers do not seem to know which parts of the programs are actually doing the work.

Despite this lack of ability to actually produce Chief Instructor Robot, many school leaders are moving from a bunch of algorithm-driven learning software to even more of it. In Clearwater County, Idaho, for example, parents are complaining that the Summit software has moved from being a curriculum supplement to the actual curriculum. In response, the school board president touted the promise of Personalized [sic] Learning, which leans even more heavily on an algorithm-driven mass instruction software set up.

There are many reasons to resist the Robo-Teachers-- the lack of data privacy, the biases embedded into any software by the programmers, the lack of actual education expertise in the programmers, the lack of human contact and interaction for students. But there are problems even more simple than that.

I've just returned from a visit to my daughter and her family in Seattle. They have a Google Home system (similar to the Alexa) and it sort of works, except when it doesn't. I watched my grandchildren and there parents ask for the same song many times over the course of the visit, and there was no predicting what Google would actually do in return (on the plus side, I've know heard the German version of the Gummi Bear song). My wife and I used the GPS programs in our phones, which as usual worked well except when they didn't (first it couldn't find the grocery store, then it couldn't find us). And I'll just refer you to the story of my ex-wife's mail.

In other words, on top of the philosophical objections to robot teachers, we have to also consider whether or not they could actually do the job well. All the empirical evidence says no. Like the sort-of mostly self-driving kind of cars, most of our computer-based algorithm-powered tech works as long as there's a human buffer between the tech and the world-- because the tech doesn't work well enough on its own to be trusted. And that means it doesn't work well enough to be entrusted with the running of a classroom occupied by tiny humans-- or even a single tiny human.

But here-- since Selwyn opened with a Kubrickian HAL9000 reference, it seems only appropriate to end with this:

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Why Protest Betsy

This Monday, Betsy DeVos will be touring a public school in Erie, Pennsylvania (it's an ironic choice, considering how badly Erie's schools have suffered from "choice" and other nifty reform policies). This means that lots of pro-public education folks are mobilizing to make a strong, vocal, public protest in her immediate vicinity. And a lot of other people will be asking the question, "Why bother?'

It's a valid question. And look-- here are some of the things that are not going to happen as a result of this or any other protest:

DeVos is not going to say, "Dang! Look at all; these protestors! All right! You win! I'm going to change the policies I've previously supported because you guys just talked me into it."

DeVos is not going to go home and think, "You know, one of the things I heard shouted at me, or one of the posters I saw, made me rethink some of the philosophical premises on which I've based my entire lifetime of anti-public ed activism. I think I shall change my ways."

Neither DeVos nor any other member of this administration is going to think, "This is just awful. I'm so ashamed. I'm going to quit."

DeVos is not going to stop and think, "You know-- I really should just sit down and listen to these people. They might have a valid point."

And no DeVos nor Trump supporter will feel one iota less supportive at the end of the day than at the beginning.

So why bother?

DeVos will dismiss the protestors as protectors of the status quo, opponents of Good Change, and generally awful people. She will connect education protests to one of the over-arching narratives of this administration, that only some people are the Real America, and Those Other People are not. That only Real Americans deserve to receive the blessings of this nation, and that the others should stay in their proper place, silent and compliant.

So why bother?

I can offer several reasons.

First, because the alternative is a small or non-existent protest, which allows the administration to push the story that they already try to make live as a lie-- there just aren't that many people who care, aren't that many people who oppose Trump and DeVos and the rest. The opposition is weak and tiny and can safely be ignored or mocked. If nobody shows up to protest, then the feds get to share photos of empty streets and the rest of America shrugs and says, "Well, yeah-- I guess there really isn't anyone who's all that upset with the current trends."

Second, because cognitive dissonance is taxing. Many have noted the DeVosian smirk. It's a smirk that says, "I don't really have to listen to any of this. I'm above this. None of it matters. None of it is real." It's the look of someone who must filter out the evidence of her own eyes and ears in order to maintain her own view of what is happening. This is the work of dampening cognitive dissonance, and as someone who has played that game before, it is tiring. Filtering out all the protestors is tiring. Maintaining the fiction that you are on a mission from God and wise people recognize it and are grateful to you for stooping to better their sad lives-- that's tiring. I don't believe we can get DeVos to change to another track, but I believe we can make it cost to her to hold to the one she's on. When voices get really really loud, you can only block them out by stuffing so much cotton in your ears that it hurts.

Third, if there's one thing I've learned writing this blog, it's that pro-public ed folks, people who have invested their hearts and souls in one of the US's greatest and most important institutions, feel isolated. When you are constantly told that up is down and white is black and that standardized tests are the best measure of children and teachers, you start to doubt yourself. When something is not right, it's important for people to stand together and say, "This is not right." It's important for them to be able to look around and see that they are not alone, that they are surrounded by thousands of people who see what they see. And all the people who can't be there, but watch from elsewhere get that same benefit. Teachers from all across the country can look at pictures of a protest and think, "Wow. It's not just me."

Fourth-- collateral leverage. DeVos's visit is being handled by Mike Kelly, a GOP Representative who is in a tight race and deserves to be defeated for so many reasons. If he's hoping that a visit from a high-ranking DC secretary will help him out, he deserves to learn otherwise.

Henry David Thoreau in his essay "Civil Disobedience" encouraged us to be friction in the machine, like sand dropped into gears. We may not make the machine stop today. We may not end its movement right now. But we make harder to keep grinding away, and that wears it down and brings about its eventual collapse. I believe as an absolute rule in life that you are always either getting better or getting worse, making things better or helping them fall apart. There is no standing still.

My wife and I can't be there Monday (we are visiting family in Seattle-- no doubt DeVos deliberately waited till we were going to be out of town), but if you're anywhere near Erie, you should go. Yes, it will be hard to park, and crowded and messy, and somebody may even stand up and say something stupid that you disagree with. But it's important to be there, to be visible, to be heard. Years from now you don't want to be explaining to someone, "Yeah, I knew it was wrong, but I stayed home and didn't speak up." Public education has been under attack for too long in this country, and people have been too quiet about it. The time to stand up and speak up is now. No, it's not going to suddenly make everything better if you stand up and speak up, but the alternative is to step back and watch it get worse.

Speak out and rally begins at 1:00 on Monday, July 16, outside Pfeiffer-Burleigh Elementary School, 235 East 11th Street in Erie PA.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Something For You To Watch

This short film features an old teaching and theater friend of mine, and it addresses an issue that matters to many readers of this blog. It'll just take about nine minutes of your time.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Too Personalized

Personalized learning is the hot new idea in education reform, but some versions could get a little too personal.
While personalized learning is a broad and ill-defined field these days, many folks want to harness computer power to match students up with perfectly suited educational materials. This involves some sort of algorithm that collects and crunches data, then spits out a result, not unlike the way Facebook or Netflix collect data with users in order to match them up with the right products, or at least the best marketing for those products. As we've seen with the Cambridge Analytica scandal, there are some real privacy issues with data mining on this scale, but that has not stopped developers from digging deeper and deeper.
Personalized learning can be as simple as an exercise management system. Pat completes Widget Studies Worksheet 457A/rq, and because Pat missed questions 6, 9, and 11, the algorithm says Pat should next complete Worksheet 457B/sg, and so on until Pat completes Unit Test 1123-VZ and is declared a master of widgetry. This may sound like a boring mass work worksheet, but instead of paper worksheets, the modern system puts all the worksheets on a computer and students complete them on a computer screen, so it's like super-exciting.
Data mining academics is central to many personalized systems. AltSchool, the Silicon Valley Wunderschool (now a business marketing wunderschool-in-a-box) touted its massive data mining, with teachers recording every significant learning moment and turning it over to a data team in order to create a program of perfectly personalized instruction for each student.
But many personalized learning developers are certain that data mining the academics is not enough. Social and emotional learning is another growth sector in education programming, and also, many folks have suggested that the young people are not automatically entranced by dull work just because it's on a computer screen.
So we're seeing attempts to mine other sorts of data. NWEA, the company that brought us the MAP test, now offers a feature that tells you whether or not the student taking the computer test is engaged or not. They believe that by analyzing the speed with which a student is answering questions, they can determine whether or not said student is trying. During test time, the teacher dashboard will toss up a little warning icon beside the name of any not-trying-hard-enough student so that the teacher can "redirect" the student.
That is more redundant than creepy; many teachers perform a similar analysis and intervention with a technique called "looking with their eyes." But the personalization can get creepier.

There are several companies like LCA and its Nestor program. The program uses the students' computer webcam to track and analyze facial expressions in order to determine if the instructional program is working. Monitoring programs like Nestor (there are several out there) claim they can read the student's face for different emotional reactions the better to personalize the educational program being delivered. The beauty of these systems, of course, is that if we have students taking computerized courses that read their every response, we don't really need teachers or school. Anywhere there is a computer and a webcam, school is in session and the program is collecting data about the students.
Does that seem excessive? Check out Cognition Builders, a company that offers to help you deal with your problem child by monitoring that child 24/7.
There are huge issues with all of these. From the educational standpoint, we have to question if anyone can really develop an algorithm or a necessarily massive library of materials that will actually work better than a trained human. From a privacy standpoint, the data collection is troubling. It's concerning enough to create a system that allows employers to "search" for someone who is strong in math and moderately strong in written language based simply on algorithm-driven worksheet programs. It's even more concerning when the program promises that it can also screen out future workers who are flagged as "Uncooperative" because of behavior patterns marked by a computer program in third grade.
And we still haven't found the final frontier of creepitude.
Meet the field of educational genomics. The dream here is to use genetic information  to create "precision education," which much like "precision medicine," "precision agriculture" and "precision electioneering" would use huge levels of data down to the genetic level to design a perfect program.  The MIT Technology Review this spring profiled $50 DNA tests for IQ.
Imagine a future in which doctors perform a DNA test on an embryo and by the time that child is born, an entire personalized education program is laid out for her. The constant computer monitoring collects her performance and behavior data, so that by the time she's ten years old, her digital record already makes a complete profile of her available, with an algorithm judging her on academic abilities as well as judging whether she's a good person.
There are a thousand reasons to question whether or not we could do any of this well or accurately. But before we try to see if we can enter this impersonally personalized brave new world, we really need to talk about whether or not we should.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

What Kind of Teachers Applaud Janus?

I told you they existed, and here's one example, writing out the argument that I've heard before:

Some may call me a freeloader, because the union negotiates my salary each year despite receiving no money from me, but I feel that whatever benefit I receive from this service is outweighed by the fact that the union’s collective bargaining with the district puts me in a position to be unable to ask for extra income for stellar work.

The article, posted at the super-conservative Federalist, is entitled "I'm A Teacher. Here's Why I'm Cheering My New Freedom From Unions." The writer is Sarah Mindlin. Mindlin just finished her first year as a teacher in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She graduated from New Mexico State University in 2014 with a Bachelor in Individualized Studies that included coursework in Kinesiology, Exercise Science, and Elementary Education. She then earned a Master of Arts in Teaching at Western Governors University, an on-line school. Her LinkedIn profile says that she's "knowledgeable and excited about cutting-edge educational technology and self-paced learning."

It's not that she hasn't been tempted to join the union:

Our students’ lives include single mothers, numerous siblings, incarcerated fathers, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, custody battles, and a rotating cast of stepfathers. The risk of a wild allegation from a parent or family member informs every decision we make, and the union’s assurance of legal and financial support is tempting, even for someone like me who disapproves of the political activities my dues would be supporting.

It's an unfortunate paragraph, suggesting as it does that she considers the need for legal protection given that she has to work with Those People. I'd like to assume that this paragraph is the result of infelicitous composition and not problematic attitudes about the public that she serves.

But like many teacher supporters of the Janus decision, Mindlin lives in an imaginary world.

I don’t think it occurred to me until hearing commentary on the recent Supreme Court case that without the union, I could actually negotiate my own salary with my employer.

Pro-union folks often scoff at Janus supporters as being only too happy to accept the benefits that the union has won for them, but that argument misses the mark, because many of these folks, like, apparently, Mindlin, see the union contract as holding them back.

... I feel that whatever benefit I receive from this service is outweighed by the fact that the union’s collective bargaining with the district puts me in a position to be unable to ask for extra income for stellar work.

Without the union holding her back, she could march into... well, somewhere, and demand a big fat bonus for her outstanding work. Now she can negotiate her own contract, and it's going to be awesome.

I'm not sure what scenario she imagines. She walks into the district office and asks for a bonus and the administration says, "Yes, wow! We'll get you a couple of extra thousand by cutting the pay of Mrs. Chalkdust who teaches next door to you. I'm sure she won't mind and this won't cause any problems at all." Or maybe they'll tell her, "Yes, you have been so tremendous that we are going to ask the taxpayers to accept a tax hike to finance your bonus."

She should probably take a trip to some right-to-work state and check out the many teachers who are now driving Lexuses (Lexi?) and eating caviar because they have been able to negotiate contracts far more lucrative than the union ever did. Or maybe visit Wisconsin where union-busting was simply the opening move in a deliberate program to lower teacher pay.

Fans of bonus pay in education always ignore one important factor. In the corporate world, bonuses are paid because we had a good year, and because we had a good year, we have a pile of "extra" money, and from that pile, we can pay bonuses. But public schools don't turn a profit, no matter how great a year they have, which means that the money for bonuses must come from somewhere else. An easy and common way to manage that problem is to make everyone's base pay lower; that way we can call this bunch of money that used to be part of your salary a "bonus."

Mindlin is also at a disadvantage because she doesn't seem to know how negotiating works:

Most teachers I know and with whom I work go above and beyond their job descriptions on a daily basis, despite knowing they will take home the same paycheck regardless of their efforts. Still, imagine the improvements that could be made to education if teachers were incentivized to go the extra mile and work at their highest capacity in return for more than just a warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Do you see the problem? If in fact most teachers will go the extra mile for a warm fuzzy feeling, why would any employer feel the need to give them money? If you're negotiating stance is "I'm going to do great work for you no matter what, but you should give me more money just because I think I deserve it," then guess how much bonus you're going to get? $0.00.

If Mindlin is serious about this, then what she should be announcing is that from this moment forward, she is not going to lift a finger outside of school hours, not going to take a single paper home, not going to take a single extra duty, not going to go an extra foot, let alone a mile, until her bosses give her a nice hike in pay.

But Mindlin, like many others, imagines that she has some sort of negotiating power as an individual when in fact she has none. Heck, the very technology-based self-paced learning that she's such a fan of makes her easily replaceable with someone even less qualified. She's a "proud freeloader" because she thinks the union is depriving her of awesome bonuses and performance-based raises that she (who has exactly one year in the classroom) is certain she would be raking in. Oh, honey. You're so cute. Check back in a year or two and let us know how that self-negotiated contract thing is working out. I'm sure that in New Mexico, where teacher retention because of low pay is already a problem, districts will be falling all over themselves to shell out big bonuses for educators. And in ten years, when you're still making what you made this year, we can talk some more about the days when that mean old union forced you into a salary schedule.

People like Mindlin exist, and they're going to be leaving the unions in droves. It may be that nothing except an unpleasant collision with reality will bring them back, or they may never come back at all. But it will certainly take more than a pushy email or phone call from the union to bring them into the fold.

In the meantime, here's a fable. Once upon a time, there was a beautiful carousel horse. She had flowing hair, a beautiful saddle, and lovely shining decorations. When a child climbed up on her back and the music played, she would glide up and down, up and down, racing forward, the wind running through her mane. But the carousel horse was discontented. "If only," she thought, "I didn't have this big pole running through my belly. I feel that it's holding me back, and if I could get free of it... My mane is so beautiful and my saddle is so shiny, I just know that I could run so much faster than all these other horses." One day a man came and liberated the carousel horse, removing her from the post and leaned her up against a shed beside the carousel. At first she was very happy, excited about her new freedom. But then the next day the carousel started up, and the children climbed onto the horses and the music began to play and the carousel horse didn't move at all. The carousel spun past her, but she didn't move up and down, and no wind blew through her mane, and no children came to ride on her. She had failed to realize that what she thought was holding her back was actually carrying her forward.