Tuesday, November 24, 2015

MA: How To Gut a School District

Back in April of 2014, Jim Peyser was managing director of the NewSchools Venture Fund, a group set up to support "venture philanthropy" in the charter school world with grant-funneling, consulting, lobbying, etc. Think of them as bag men and enforcers for hedge funders interested in making a charter school buck or two.

That would make Jim Peyser an ordinary charter-pushing well-connected money man, but that was Peyser in April of 2014. But two days before Christmas of 2014, Santa brought Peyser a gift of the job of Secretary of Education for the state of Massachusetts. Not since the fox was hired to stand guard over the henhouse has a job been so cleverly filled, but Governor Charlie Baker loves him some charters and has thrown open the gate to every kind of charter shilling under the sun.

But the case of Peyser is unique, because as NewSchools Venture Honcho, Peyser laid out his ideas about how the path forward for gutting redesigning school districts. Take for instance the piece he published in that long-ago April, "Redesigning School Districts: The Way Forward."

He opens by quoting an imaginary friend who bemoans the fact that although charters are swell, they only serve a few students, and in order to "close the achievement gap at scale," the "real work" of fixing school districts must be done.

These friends and allies believe charters have successfully proven that it’s possible to create high-performing public schools in high-need neighborhoods, but now charters need to step aside so that their practices and systems can be taken to scale by enlightened district leaders.

Peyser wants to point out two problems with that view. You will perhaps be surprised to learn that neither of the problems are that charters have not actually successfully proven anything. Okay-- they've proven that with an infusion of resources and a carefully chosen student population, you can test prep your way to higher test scores. But we've known that since before charter schools were a twinkle in a hedge funder's eye.

No, Peyser thinks there are two other things wrong with that.

First, it is based on the Great Man theory of reform, the belief that a really awesome superintendent or principal can Fix Everything. But Peyser says that fans don't reckon with the bump-and-run employment pattern of urban superintendents. In the very next sentence he indicts the "this-too-shall-pass" attitude of "tenured teachers" (though if superintendents leave every three years, this too, whatever it is, really will pass) and "entrenched administrators." See what he did there? Problem administrators are stuck in the mud, but problem teachers have evil job protections.

Second, Peyser lays out what he calls the "twin obstacles to effective and sustainable change: politics and collective bargaining." Those really are the bugbears of the corporate approach to school operation, and they really are twins, because both of them interfere with the leader's ability to do whatever the hell he wants without having to get anybody's approval. "Applying sound management practices" to a big ole school district is hard enough when leadership has the unfettered freedom to Do As He Will. "Doing so in an environment where change must be negotiated with powerful unions and ultimate control rests with an ever-changing cast of politicians and school board members, is next to impossible."

It's a pretty quick, clear explanation of the corporatist view. Get rid of elected officials. Get rid of collective bargaining. Let me run the company the way I think best, based on "sound management practices." These guys really, literally, do not know what the hell they are doing when it comes to schools.

Peyser lists the other problems. The large majority of students are still being educated in the public schools, and "politico-bureaucratic inertia" makes it hard to "right-size a school system that is gradually losing students and resources as charters grow." Yes, those taxpayers can get so grumpy when their neighborhood school is right-sized.

The result is an annual series of budget cuts and a growing chorus of complaint from district employees and parents of district-school students that charter schools are forcing their schools into a downward spiral.

Peyser's feeling about this is not clear. Is he suggesting the death spiral isn't really happening, because that would be a hard point to sell. Does he think people should be happily compliant about the death spiral?

But Peyser does have answers to the Big Picture Issues.

Specifically, district superintendents, state education commissioners, and mayors, in partnership with one another and with charter operators and local and national funders, are developing new systems for breaking down the walls that separate the district and charter sectors, and that reorganize central offices to empower individual schools – both district and charter, alike.  This isn’t a veiled attempt to co-opt and regulate the charter sector, in order to “level the playing field” (i.e., force charters to live with all of the dysfunction that district schools suffer under).  Instead, it is an effort to liberate all schools from the dead-weight of central management, in exchange for a results-based system of accountability.

Note that he wants to rest assured that this not some attempt to co-opt charters, meaning, I guess, suck them back under some office's control. Instead, he would like to free the public schools from their chains of central office management. Yes, when the charter operators come to take over public schools, they will be greeted as liberators.

Practical steps in this liberation?

Well, Peyser likes a universal enrollment system, like the ones in Newark and New Orleans, where students are thrown in a big single lottery and each student waits to be chosen by a charter school "receives a single offer of admission from a school that his or her parents has chosen." He also likes the idea of designating a charter as a default neighborhood school with an opt-out option for parents.

He likes common school report cards, so that parents can make informed choices about the schools that charter operators will assign students to. Some parents will choose schools with high standardized tests scores, and some parents will decide to send their child to a school with low test scores, I guess. Well, no matter. Newark and New Orleans teach us that most won't get an actual choice anyway.

But common school report cards do help set up another favorite Peyser practice-- bringing charters in to take over or replace "failing" schools. The big bonus here is real estate:

In exchange, the charter schools can lease or buy the school building, a precious commodity for any growing charter operator. 

Because the very best school plans make sure to address the needs of charter operators, and students are not nearly as precious as the buildings they occupy. Peyser likes the Tennessee ASD, and he provides this hilariously understated summary of charter real estate grabbing in New York:  

Even when a charter school is not directly replacing a low-performing district school, some districts, like New York, have helped find space for charter operators in underserved communities.

Yes. "Find" space. As in, "While we were looking for a co-location site, we just shoved all these public school kids out of the building and-- voila! We found some space!" 

Peyser also wants to be clear that in his perfect School District of Tomorrow, there are plenty of opportunities for folks to cash in on the remaining public schools as well. All sorts of school functions can be shifted to outside contractors and new funding formulas can help turn any low-scoring public school into a fiduciary funnel for private operators. And don't forget-- freedom from those damn contract restrictions so that school leaders can flex their autonomy and deal with teachers as they wish.

All of this would be one more set of musings from a corporate-style, pubic-school-gutting, hedge-fund-feeding charter promoter if it weren't for the fact that this is the guy now in charge of Massachusetts' public education system. No wonder charter sharks like Families for Excellent Schools are now churning the Massachusetts waters, and Boston's mayor has laid out a plan for gutting Boston Public Schools. The only good thing about Peyser is that he's already laid out exactly what he has in mind. None of it is good, but like a big truckload of manure driving toward you across a field, you can at least see it coming.


  1. Well in terms of those "freedom from those damn contract restrictions", we may see this sooner than Greene envisions. Reformers have already one in Vegara even in union-nirvana California (though the locals are doing everything they can to fight the ruling). But the big one is coming soon.

    Vegara only addresses tenure. But as Willie Sutton said, if you really want to fix something, "go where the money is". In this case, that's union dues. If reformers win in Friedrichs, then teachers themselves will be able to effectively choose whether or not to join the union - and pay the union dues.

    And all you union defenders, please don't try the typical old retorts:

    1. No one needs to join a union - Sure, you don't need to join the union. But if you don't, you still need to pay "fair share" dues which are the majority of union dues. For many, there's no point in sticking out like a sore thumb in a political profession (like teaching) and getting just a small break on your union dues. Moreover, in some states (like CA), the unions have tied benefits like health insurance not to the job but rather to the union. See Bain v. CTA.

    2. Unions must still represent non-members - Another old retort. It's like the mob saying that they've got to "protect" your store whether you pay the protection money or not ... so you'd better pay. Let's say that the Supreme Court allows both teachers to choose not to pay dues ... and if declined, the union need not represent those who don't want their service.

    Bottom line - If the Courts release the handcuffs that teachers unions have over teachers, you may see a greater move towards reform than we've ever seen.

    1. 1. Where I work, nobody knows who is a union member and who is not. 2. Learn some history. Labor history.

      Bottom line - there is no defensible logic for your statement.

    2. Teaching's a "political profession"? You sound insane.

      "...if declined, the union need not represent those who don't want their service." So we're going to have two pay tiers, one negotiated by the union and another where management pays as little as they want? Makes no sense.

      Handcuffs? On teachers? By unions? What are unions keeping teachers from doing? Some of us are annoyed because we think they're not doing all they should for us professionally, but they're certainly not holding us back in any way. What alternate universe do you live in?

    3. -Teaching is a political profession in that those opposed to unions often find difficulties. As an example, see Larry Sand (teacher) of the California Teachers Empowerment Network.

      - Tiers - Yes, the right to assemble (which is the constitutional foundation for a union) is a right - not an obligation. Those who don't want to join a union do not have to. You say it makes no sense. But how is this any different than any other worker benefit such as healthcare of life insurance where workers can join (if they want to) but are not obligated. If they join, they must pay for the service. For example, I declined the health insurance at my employer because it was cheaper to get coverage through my wife's company.

      - Handcuffs - Please take off the blinders. Unions are constraining teachers in many ways. At a most basic level, they are coercing teachers to join the union. Sure, they can decline. But how many people are going to decline a service that they must pay or anyway ??? Again, tell me any other service provider where you must pay whether you get the service or not. That's called a monopoly which were prohibited in the Sherman Antitrust Act over 100 years ago. Second, unions further coerce teachers by pushing many of the benefits (like health insurance) as member benefits rather than worker benefits. In fact, there's a court case now called Bain v. CTA where the plaintiffs don't want to be forced to join the union to receive what should be worker benefits. See link.


    4. What you're describing has nothing to do with politics. A teacher's job has nothing to do with influencing government. A union, which is different from the job or profession, exists for collective bargaining purposes and to represent members in disputes with management over contract violations. A secondary purpose is to lobby for bills or candidates that propose policies good for working conditions, which are also student learning conditions. This does not make the job itself political; a teacher's goal is student learning, not to influence government to make laws that will give them more profit. Unions also exist to keep management from playing politics regarding cronyism and favoritism.

      I don't know any teachers that are against unions. When my mom started teaching there were no unions, and teachers were exploited. It's much better with unions. I don't know why people would be against the union lobbying for policies that lead to better working conditions, but it sounds messed up in CA. Benefits do not work that way most places. Also in most places now, you can't get on your spouse's coverage unless your job offers no coverage. So the only way unions are "coercive" (except in CA) is to "coerce" you to be part of the union. Though if you're that against unions, you could always look for a job that wasn't unionized.

      The only problem I have with the unions is that they're not doing enough to support the profession against the educational malpractice being forced on us by people outside the profession who are clueless but somehow have political clout. I think we ought to be able to vote every five years on which union we want so they'd do a better job of looking out for our interests.

    5. Teachers and teachers unions are political in at least two ways. Regarding teachers themselves - those who do not want to be part of a union are shunned. See link below.


      Regarding teachers in aggregate (or teachers unions), you miss the point. For years, AT&T spent large sums lobbying the government against deregulating long distance telephony. During this time, they earned monopolistic profits since they didn't need to worry about any competitors and could charge high prices for low service. In this way, their political lobbing insulated AT&T from the natural forces of competition and thereby contributed to a lower quality product.

      Teachers are the same way. You incorrectly separate the role of unions from the insulated atmosphere in which teachers work. By not just representing workers, but also by donating heavily to politicians that hire them, they strongly influence teacher contracts in a manner that ensures job protection at the expense of a quality education for kids (e.g. tenure, seniority based promotion, etc.) To clarify, the purpose of many monopolies is NOT "to make laws that will give them more profit" but rather to entrench their existing position.

      As to your second mistake, you may not know teachers who are "against unions" but there are many. Just look at Wisconsin (which has a fairly pro-labor history). Look how many teachers and other public employees opted out of the union after they could do so without ramification.

      In terms of "looking for a job that is not unionized", this is often the refrain of union shills who attempt to defend their monopoly. However, the statement attempts to place the union in the role of the employer. It is NOT the employer. It's like saying that you could choose another job if you didn't like the company's cafeteria. Silly, right ? What we have is a situation where employees are forced to eat in the cafeteria. Rather than leave the job, a solution more in keeping with our idea of freedom is to simply give people a choice where to eat. Or in the case of unions, give people a choice of representation.

    6. What do you mean by "a choice of representation"?

    7. It's not hard to understand. You can pick a union (hopefully more than one choice) or you can choose to represent yourself. It's your choice. And I've heard people on this board complain about their representation not being zealous enough. Well, if one union doensn't have a monopoly, then hopefully, they will provide better service to earn your loyalty instead of the union simply knowing that you've got no choice. Isn't that better both for you (the teacher) and certainly for the student ?

    8. I'm totally for unions. I don't understand why we can't change our minds by a majority vote over which one we have. I wouldn't want to represent myself. One person has no leverage and I don't trust principals to know what they're doing because most of the ones I've known you could say are failed teachers. I don't like to say it because it sounds mean, but they quit teaching after very few years because they didn't like it and didn't know how to do it very well, so they don't know how to give you advice on how to teach better. One way I would change the system would be to require principals to have 15 years teaching experience. So I wouldn't want to represent myself, but I wouldn't be against people getting together to start a brand new union.

    9. You are getting there. Just continue that line of thought and you'll reach something we call freedom. "I wouldn't want to represent myself. " That's fine. You don't need to represent yourself. But neither are you compelled to join a union and pay dues when you believe that such dues aren't worth what you receive (the same way you can decline any other service). " I wouldn't be against people getting together to start a brand new union." Again, you are getting closer to free choice.

      The idea is that each person has a Constitutional right to assemble. You can join one group and that group can represent. Other teachers may prefer another union and choose to pay their dues. Yet, others may prefer to represent themselves. But in no case can any group have a monopoly. A monopoly is defined as prohibiting anyone from choosing different representation (including sole representation) from someone else.

    10. I have never thought my union dues aren't worth what I receive. And all the workers in one place have to have the same union represent them or there's no point because there's only strength in numbers and unity. But I think there should be a vote of confidence or new elections periodically, just like we vote for town council people and senators and representatives to represent us. But in the larger democracy as well, I'm an advocate of putting many more issues to a referendum vote.

    11. With all due respect, euphemism is often the cloak for disreputable beliefs. "And all the workers in one place have to have the same union represent them or there's no point because there's only strength in numbers and unity." This is a clear euphemism for a monopoly. Would you also support the plumbers you use or the car companies you buy from likewise forming a cartel that hiked the prices that were charged to you, provide poor service ... and you had no choice because the monopoly forbade any new entrants from offering more favorable wages and service ?

      And by the way, you contradict yourself - "I wouldn't be against people getting together to start a brand new union." Again and again, you have a constitutional right to assemble. And that group can be as large as others agree with you on choice of representation and willingness to pay for it. But, you cannot prohibit someone else who may disagree with you from choosing different representation or sole representation. Your will may not over-ride theirs. Can you understand this ? You have said that you don't know anyone who would prefer to leave the union. And that's fine. But your freedom to choose may not interfere from someone else who has that same right. To do otherwise is a monopoly in direct contradiction to the Sherman Antitrust Act.

      Can you understand that ? Moreover, can you also understand that your reluctance to accept that you support a monopoly is evidence of self-interest and holds very little weight.

    12. Plumbers have unions. Corporations have cartels.

      You obviously don't believe in our representative form of democracy. You can't elect your very own representative to congress. Although it sounds like you think you ought to be able to buy them. But only you, not other people.

    13. First of all, most plumbers that serve residential customers are not part of any union. And corporations that collude or form cartel are subject to litigation by the Justice Department.

      And if you say "I don't believe in representative form of democracy", then you obviously haven't read my posts. You have a Constitutional right to assemble. That means that you can form or join a union thereby seeking collective representation. Nothing wrong with that. Again, your choosing representation is a voluntary choice.

      But you cannot prohibit someone else from choosing other representation including themselves.

      And your analogy to government representatives is just wrong. We're talking about unfettered choice in the supply and demand for goods and services. Government is not part of the economic marketplace. There is no suppy and demand.

      Just admit it. You want a monopoly because this gives you premium wages and benefits. And if this hurts poor kids, well, that's just too bad, right ?

    14. All the plumbers I know are union.

      Corporations collude all the time. They only catch them sometimes.

      If the majority votes for a union, you can't insist you should get a different union, the same way if the majority votes for a certain candidate, you can't insist you be represented by the losing candidate or someone who's not running. And if you don't like the candidate that's elected, you still have to pay their salary with your tax dollars.

      Please, don't be naive. Politics and government are not separate entities from the economy, they're intertwined like all other parts of society, and there are public/private collaborations all the time. Study some basic political science and sociology. Believing in Ayn Randian economics is like believing in unicorns.

      Teachers nowhere get "premium" wages. Teachers in, I think it was a district in Pennsylvania, were going without pay at the beginning of the year because there was no money to pay them because the state couldn't get the budget together and they didn't want to quit and look for work elsewhere because they didn't want to abandon the kids. Teaching is very difficult -- you try it sometime -- and teachers work hard and deserve a decent middle class wage. Paying teachers decent wages doesn't hurt poor kids. What hurts poor kids is poverty, and policies that don't make children and education enough of a priority, instead prioritizing things like subsidies to Enron (What's that about "Government is not part of the economic marketplace"?), among a myriad of other things.

    15. Again, you do the same thing ! "All the plumbers I know are union." Do you even recognize the difference between your personal experience and a broader set of data. "About 30 percent of plumbers and pipe fitters belong to unions, according to unionstats.com, a website that estimates union membership based on federal data."


      - Politics vs Economy - You just don't get it, do you ? There is a difference between politics and economics. When was the last time that you received a car because more people voted for you to receive one than someone else ? That's a definition of cronyism. Yes, in a representative democracy, we elect based on a majority. But that's not how economics works. I fear that you've been around the contrived and despotic environment of your union halls, that you don't realize we live a free society.

      - Teacher Wages -
      Teachers do get premium wages - at least relative to the free market wages of charter schools teachers. See link. I know. I know. You are going to say something along the lines of - "you don't know any charter teachers who make less than you do". Of course, since the world revolves around you, such observations must be all that exist.


      "Teaching is very difficult -- you try it sometime -- and teachers work hard and deserve a decent middle class wage." Again, you don't get it. Teachers are just like anyone else. They "deserve" what the market will tolerate - no more and no less. But from my perspective, I'd only be willing to spend more for teachers to educate my kids if they demonstrate an ability to improve their educational performance.

      - Same old, same old
      "Paying teachers decent wages doesn't hurt poor kids. " - It DOES hurt poor kids when more money is spent outside the classroom in union bureaucracy and when the teacher's compensation is entirely divorced from their performance.

      "What hurts poor kids is poverty" - If you read my prior posts, you'd see my acknowledgement that poverty affects education. But WITHIN the category of poor children, some teachers and some schools do a better job. Why is that so hard for you to understand ?

  2. I see you're back on the clock. Apparently you don't work weekends.

    1. Sorry, should have been a reply to our new paid troll, not a comment on Peter's writing.

    2. LOL. Watch what direction you are firing that canon.

    3. Who do you think pays people to support public education? I mean, real public education, not that private-in-public-clothing education. Hilarious.

      BTW, it's "cannon".

    4. Thanks for the spelling lesson.

      In answer to your question, education is by far paid for via local tax dollars which are primarily funded by property taxes. Some states supplement this with state dollars which are funded with a combination of sales taxes and income taxes (depending on the state). And of course, the Feds chip in a bit for poor students in Title I Funds.

      But here's the key question. What are those tax dollars for ? The obvious answer is to educate the kids ... not necessarily through government employees. The traditional union led schools don't own that money. And in fact, most states have some time of revenue allocation formula that awards dollars based on student enrollment.

      But here's where the rubber hits the road. Instead of standing up and saying that union-led schools will do everything they can to outperform charter schools (and get those dollars), union-led schools use every excuse in the book to evade responsibility. Time for you and your union brothers and sisters to accept that your mission isn't just to provide day-care, but rather to educate these kids and welcome (not evade) the metrics for measuring the extent to which this is done.

  3. "Bottom line - If the Courts release the handcuffs that teachers unions have over teachers, you may see a greater move towards reform than we've ever seen."

    No, you will see a greater move by professional educators toward the exit door.

    1. That seems to be what the "reformers" want. It's a big part of the "reform".

    2. Which exit door do you mean ? If you mean that a good number of teachers will decide to leave the teachers union, then I'd say you are right. If you are saying that teachers separated from their monopoly of union control will choose not to be teachers, well, we'll see. Teach for America is seeing greater interest than ever. And what's interesting is that unlike union-led teachers, TFA recruits at some of the best colleges including my daughter's - who just graduated Princeton.

      So if you are suggesting that more teachers who attended third-rate schools will be replaced with students from top schools, then I'm not so sure that is a transition we should be afraid of. In fact, a recent Mckinsey study of top school systems around the world (Finland, Singapore, etc.) found that one of the main issues is that America recruits from the bottom 1/3 of college students whereas Finland recruits from the top 1/10.

      See link.


    3. You have no freakin' idea what you're talking about. Many good, veteran teachers are leaving the profession because they're tired of being belittled and demeaned as professionals. They're tired of being told how and what to teach by people who have no idea what teaching is, which is resulting in them being pressured to commit educational malpractice. They're tired of being judged by invalid evaluation methods. Even TFA is having trouble recruiting people, and all statistics show that most of them have no intention of being teachers more than a couple of years anyway. It is not true that teachers come from the bottom 1/3 of college students. My daughter is a teacher and she graduated summa cum laude and speaks seven languages.

      What do you do for a living? What is your obsession with unions anyway? The only time I've seen venomous hatred at the level you have for unions is in commentaries by Likudites about Palestinians.

    4. Mr. Backman, whatever determines what is a first-rate school? What does that mean? In my long academic career I have attended a community college, a small liberal arts college, a large state university top-rated in my field in the questionable polls like US News, and a large private university, also top-rated in my field. I found each one made important contributions to my formation. Even the community college. Great teaching and learning goes on in many institutions. So if you will pardon my language for a moment, what the hell difference does it make what college a teacher comes from? Additionally, as I hold degrees in music and physics, I am sick to death of the implication that teachers lack the ability to make it academically. Pshaw. I am not a counterexample of n=1. I am continually impressed by the intelligence of my physics and other teaching colleagues.

      I fell into teaching by accident, and I stay because it is challenging, interesting and important work. I am a union member because I see very well how vulnerable teachers are. The union has never ever put constraints on me as a teacher. I am not sub-par intellectually and the union does not have a jack-booted foot on my neck. I am sick to death of these particular characterizations and will take no one seriously who cannot put forth a view more nuanced than these oh-so-tired cliches.

    5. @ Rebecca DeCoca - Who knows why people are leaving the teaching profession ? Maybe you are right that "tired of being told how and what to teach by people who have no idea what teaching is". Maybe they just no longer want a job when the monopoly is crumbling ? In any event, changes need to be made. You simply cannot defend the practice where for 50 years, unionized teachers had almost no competition and yet NAEP scores barely moved and are below 40% proficiency. The achievement gap is huge and the consequences particularly for disadvantaged students are devastating resulting in a forfeited chance to use education to escape the cycle of poverty. You are akin to doctors using leaches to try to cure patients. No, you didn't make the patients sick. But neither are you making them healthy. New methods need to be tried ... and the fact that such reforms may challenge your profession and cause some teachers to leave is a more than fair price to improve the effectiveness of education.

      In terms of teachers coming from the bottom 1/3 of students, this is pretty clear from the Mckinsey study. They are one the world's leading consultants. And I don't think such an exhaustive study is questioned by one anomaly (your daughter).

      I sell commodity software. It has nothing to do with education which makes me far less biased than you. I am, however, a consumer since I pay taxes and send four children to schools (one of whom just graduated Princeton).

    6. @ Helene Dauerty - Allow me to assume that your question was not rhetorical. "Mr. Backman, whatever determines what is a first-rate school?" The answer is the effectiveness with which they improve the education of the students in their care. Obviously, this is measured in different ways by different families. But the key is to allow the consumer to make the decision what is best for their kids. Other than preserving a monopoly, can you not see the arrogance in teachers unions resisting this basic freedom ? Moreover, it is a freedom that is already enjoyed by affluent families who either send their kids to private school or move to affluent towns with strong schools. (Anticipating your counter-point that such affluent towns have better schools because they get more money, this is not always the case. In fact, the most expensive public schools in the nation are in places where barely half the students graduate. See link.)


      Regarding your highly nuanced question, "what the hell difference does it make what college a teacher comes from?", it does make a difference. As the Mckinsey study states, "We are now recruiting our teachers from the bottom third of high school students going to college ... it is simply not possible for students to graduate with the skills they will need unless their teachers have the knowledge and skills we want our children to have." Let me put it another way. I could try to teach a class in Spanish. But I likely wouldn't do a very good job. I simply lack the skills. How well could you teach music and physics without an educational background in each ? My point is that just as there are distinctions in subject matter expertise, there are likewise differences in someone's academic caliber. I do not deny that there are other necessary traits including an ability to explain and idea and motivate a student to learn it. But I hope you would agree that such soft skills are similarly insufficient if a teacher does not have the same acumen that they wish to impart to their students. To quote a Middle Eastern proverb (used in the Mckinsey Study), "faakid ashay la yua'tee" - "One cannot give what one does not have."

    7. I was talking exclusively about colleges as "first-rate" and said nothing about high school ratings except to note that I am surrounded by highly accomplished teachers with solid backgrounds in their disciplines. I think Peter has spoken eloquently and often on why the marketplace/business model of education is a bad idea. And I apologize to the rest of the blog readership for encouraging Mr. Backman. In a moment of weakness I decided to offer up a counter-narrative to the stupid union thug teacher noise.

      I cannot resist a final statement on teacher qualification. In sports, how many great coaches were first great players? There are many, but coaching s not the exclusive domain of top practitioners of the sport. I have taught a number of students who began to far exceed me with their accomplishments in music and physics even as they were studying with me. I was smart enough to ask questions, guide them and to and let them go. To me, the greatest honor I can receive is that my students exceed me. Mr. Backman, you and I do not share a common understanding of great teaching, and I'm willing to bet it is because you have not he faintest idea of what it looks like.

    8. Mr. Backman:

      (1) As you are not a teacher (obviously, even without knowing what your job is), I have a much better idea than you do of why teachers are leaving the profession.

      (2) Your market-based "reforms" of the last 15 years have not proven to be effective; with them, NAEP scores have gone down for the first time ever, so I don't see how you can defend these practices, since they have been proven ineffective using your own metrics.

      (3) One study does not a scientific proof make.

      (4) Congratulations on your child graduating Princeton. What kind of K-12 schools did he or she go to?

    9. @ Helene Dauerty - Pretty strong connection between students who are "first rate" in high school and those who attend top colleges.

      I recognize that you don't like (or understand) the consumer oriented idea. And hey, I might not want consumers to have a choice either if I was selling a product that people were forced to buy and where they had no choice where to buy it (education from union led schools). But can you not understand how families might want a choice ? Can you not understand how unfair it is that affluent families already have a choice (to send their kids to private schools or move to better schools in the suburbs) but that poor children don't have this choice ? And lastly, can you not understand that suppliers where the consumer has no choice often provide poor service (because they don't need to do any better). As evidence of the last point, when was the last time you received good service from the DMV ?

      In terms of teacher qualification, do you not see the flaw in your argument ? "To me, the greatest honor I can receive is that my students exceed me." By this logic, we should recruit the weakest students to be teachers since this improves the odds that a kid will surpass the teacher. Doesn't make much sense, does it ? Look, I certainly agree that there is more to teaching than subject matter expertise. But does it really make sense that a teacher should have weaker reasoning skills, background knowledge, academic curiosity, theoretical understanding, etc. ? That makes no sense. And by the way, some of the best NBA coaches were former top players (Pat Riley, Phil Jackson, Lenny Wilkens, etc.).

    10. @ Rebeca deCoca

      1. Why Teachers Leave - You make a fair point. But with about 90,000 schools out there, wouldn't you agree that comprehensive data would be more reliable than your anecdotes (e.g. your daughter) ?

      2. Market Based Reforms - Wouldn't you agree that it's a bit tough to argue about the effect of market based reforms in aggregate when one of the chief examples of such reforms (charters) only supply about 6,500 out of 90,000 schools ? But if you look more narrowly at those charters vs their peers, the NAEP and other standardized scores are mostly up particularly for the largest charters (e.g KIPP, Success).

      3. Studies - Actually, I provided two studies (not one) that demonstrate charter outperformance over traditional schools - Mathematica and CREDO. Also, keep in mind that Mathematica was commissioned by the Dept of Education.

      4. My Daughter - She was actually bored through much of K-12 attending a school where we had little choice (Shrewsbury Borough Schools). In high school, however she had a choice of which school to attend. After looking at a number of schools, she chose High Tech High, a magnet school in NJ which was ranked as one of the 22 "public elite" high schools in the country by Newsweek and #31 in the country by US News. See links below.



    11. Mr. Backman:

      (1) You offered no data on why teachers are leaving, not even anecdotal, only speculation.

      (2) They are not up significantly. The key reform that was supposed to have the most effect on "improvement" and is everywhere because of NCLB and Race to the Top is the high stakes standardized testing and accountability formula. This has obviously not had a positive effect.

      (3) I was talking about the study saying teaching candidates are low tier.

      (4) I'm glad your daughter was able to attend a good public high school.

      (5) In regards to your comment to Helene: charter schools are nothing like private schools. Therefore, calling them a "choice" equivalent to a private school an affluent family has access to is not accurate. Poor choice is not better than no choice. In Ohio, as I said, before charters we had very good district schools in Ohio, with district magnet schools, immersion schools, tech schools, good urban comprehensive schools, and alternative schools. It sounds like you do also where you live, though I have not read good things about New Jersey in general.. Big cities like New York and Chicago are where there is the most poverty and therefore the most problems. What has been shown to be most helpful in these areas are wrap-around community schools.

    12. First, Happy Thanksgiving.

      1. Teachers leaving - Fair point. In fairness, you didn't offer data either.

      2. Tests - I disagree that we would expect "improvement" soley due to increased use of tests. They are necessary but not sufficient. It's like questioning why a patient didn't get better because you took their temperature. Taking their temperature is necessary but that tells what where the problem exists and its extent. But you still need to fix it (medicine). And the medicine (such as teacher compensation tied to test scores and charters) are still too new and too small to see in aggregate NAEP.

      3. Teacher Quality - I'll look for more studies but the Mckinsey study is pretty well regarded.

      4. Thanks.

      5. Choice - I'm not saying that private schools are identical to charters. The similarity is the choice the families have rather than the school itself. Let's make it a practical choice. Let's say you are poor parent (typically single mother) living in the Bronx. Your kid is zoned to attend PS 123 which is a terrible school where 4 percent of kids passed the state mandated math tests. Again, you are too poor to move to a neighborhood with better schools or to send your kid to private school. There are magnet schools but your kid is not strong enough to gain admission to them. But you want to give your kid a chance at an education. So what do you do ? I mean this literally. What do you do ? And please don't give me the non-sense about taking a more active role in your kid's education (e.g. joining PTA, etc.) I'm saying what do you do right now for your kid ?

      But now the family has a choice. Success Academy draws from the same students (poor, minority) and is even housed in the same building. By contrast with PS 123, 96% of students passed the math test. That's better than the affluent schools. Now you can blame test prep and strict rules all you want. But you cannot ignore that if 96% of the kids passed the math test, it's a pretty good likelihood that they know something about math !! Again, the family isn't forced to send their kids to Success (or any charter). The CHOOSE to do so. And again, please don't tell me about cherry picking and suspension or whatever. You can't cherry pick or suspend enough kids out of a group where 4% pass a test to get to a group where 96% pass the same test.

      Obviously, you favor "wrap-around" community schools. And I have no issue with this being a choice for families. But the idea here really seems to be expanding the services offered (health care, meals, counseling) when such schools can't even get their primary job done right (academics). Again, schools like Success offer almost none of these wrap-around services and yet do very well. Of course, your preference for wrap-around schools wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that such additional services would call for additional union employees, would it ? Nahhh ... Here's the links if you want to read for yourself.



    13. (1) There is no firm data, but at least I have anecdotes.

      (2) Big stakes tests grading schools and tying funding withholding or extra compensation for all school staff has been around since NCLB and it has not had a positive effect. Tying individual teacher compensation to student test scores won't either. The ASA is the highest authority on this and they explain clearly why this is an invalid and counterproductive use of metrics. And merit pay won't work because teachers, although they need to make a decent living for their family, are not in it for the money. For good teachers (which is most), teaching is a calling.There are many things I think could be done to improve public education, but none of them has to do with standardized testing, which does not tell you how to improve learning.

      (5) I am not obsessed with unions.(Although when there were strong private sector unions, there was a strong middle class and a lot less poverty, and there's no reason not to go back to that, since society worked much better.)

      Community wrap-arounds have nothing to do with unions. We're talking about putting community programs like medical services and nutrition and parenting classes done by community organizations into the schools. The only reason I'm advocating for them in high poverty areas is that research has shown that this is what is most helpful, because the biggest obstacle to learning is the effects of poverty on parents and children of not having the access to needed support for the health and well-being of their family.

      I am not against charter schools per se. The original idea of charter schools came from the AFT union president Albert Shanker. The idea was for them to be pilot programs for innovative ideas, or programs to serve student populations that are difficult for a traditional school to serve. For example, there are three schools for autistic children in my town, and two of them are charters, which is good, so that not only the affluent can get the help they need. Shanker's idea was not for for-profit charter operators to enrich themselves on the taxpayer dollar, or to close down schools and take away local democratic control from communities. No innovations have come out of these charters.

      If I lived in a high poverty area with an under-resourced school, sure I'd like a choice. But no way would I want my child in a military style school learning to be submissive. A poor choice is not better than no choice.

      Montessori or Waldorf schools would be a good choice for me. They've both been around for over a hundred years, but in Ohio the only Montessori schools are private, and there are no Waldorf schools at all. I was able to observe a Montessori school, and I was very impressed. I think it would have been particularly good for my son, and certainly wouldn't have hurt my daughters. From what I know about Montessori and Waldorf, I think they're the best kind of schools for all kids, and I think all public schools should use Montessori and/or Waldorf principles.

    14. 1. Teachers Leaving - OK. Can we agree that the data is not conclusive on this one ?

      2. Effect of Education Reforms on Aggregate Scores - Again, I contend that the most significant part of educational reform (charters) are just too small at this point to see aggregate improvement. But just looking at the effect of the charters themselves suggest that the reforms are working.

      2a. Effect of Merit Pay - So you raised the question of the effect of merit pay on educational achievement in traditional schools. There actually doesn't appear to be a lot of data on the question - in the U.S.. But I'd also point out that there's almost no relationship between the things that unions use to increase pay (e.g. seniority) and educational achievement.

      The data that is available is fairly positive including "gold-standard" experiments in TN and IL. Also, the data from countries where merit pay have been used more extensively (e.g. Israel, India) are even more persuasive.

      Edward Glaeser of Harvard -


      "Despite widespread pessimism among educators about whether merit pay systems can effectively reward good teachers, most of the limited
      empirical evidence has been surprisingly positive."


      5. Charters - You are correct that charters were originally envisioned as "pilot programs for innovative ideas". But the problem is that there is strong resistance from teachers unions to any of the practices found to be successful in charters. You suggest that "No innovations have come out of these charters." Perhaps it depends on what you define as an innovation. Charters are certainly different from one another but generally share some common characteristics - longer school days and school years, merit pay, focus on discipline, etc. One of the most pervasive characteristics is the freedom from unions themselves. So you can see why teachers unions would be afraid of charters.

      5b. Choice - You state - "If I lived in a high poverty area with an under-resourced school, sure I'd like a choice. But no way would I want my child in a military style school learning to be submissive." That's fine. No one is compelling you to send your children to such schools. But that's not really the question is it ? A style of teaching may not be appropriate for you or your kids. But does that mean that you and your union friends (and the politicians which they pay off) should be able to inhibit other families from having the same degree of choice that you have ? There are over 700,000 families in New York City alone who are on waiting lists for charter schools. They want their kids to attend such schools. No one is forcing them. What right do teachers unions or their poltician buddies have to restrict the supply of charters and force families to attend failing public schools ???

    15. Poor choices are not better than no choice and you still have no idea what you're talking about. You seem to have access to good public schools. Why do you think charters are the only way to improve education for low income families?

      Where have unions "paid off" politicians and hurt you or anyone? The Jimmy Hoffa era is long over with. Wikipedia: "States with higher levels of union membership tend to have higher median incomes[9] and standards of living.[10] It has been asserted by scholars and the International Monetary Fund that rising income inequality in the United States is directly attributable to the decline of the labor movement and union membership."

    16. Who decides what is a "poor choice" ? You ? Do you not see how presumptuous this is ? Isn't it more reasonable that you choose for yourself (both as a parent and a teacher) and allow others to choose for themselves ? Regarding "why do you think charters are the only way to improve education for low income families" - there is nothing "magic" about charters. But there is something quite effective about competition for a family's children. Without this, traditional union-led schools have had - not years - but decades of failure for our disadvantaged kids - for the simple reason that they didn't have to do any better.

      "Where have unions "paid off" politicians" ? Are you serious ? I already showed a link showing that the NEA and the AFT are both top 10 donors to the Democratic Party giving $50 mm in 2014 cycle alone. See link.


      And most of that is state and local races. "But the National Education Association, which plans to spend about $40 million during this election cycle, is aiming to direct a record-setting 70 percent of that amount—or $28 million—to state and local races."


      Why are they spending all this money on state and local elections ? Because these are the same people that are negotiating with these teachers unions on new contracts. And they get their money's worth.

      I am not surprised by your last quote - ""States with higher levels of union membership tend to have higher median incomes[9] and standards of living." Again, monopolies do, in fact, yield higher incomes and benefits for teachers. No doubt. It was also true for AT&T when they had a monopoly. But it also produced very high costs and poor service - since the monopoly doesn't need to do any better.

      I don't expect that either of us will convince the other. But let me leave you with a quote of Howard Dean who represents "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party". His son is a teacher and Dean said this after speaking with his son about the state of public education in America:

      "I was enraged. I was in college during the civil rights struggle, and now 40 years later it was obvious to me that all of us—Republicans and Democrats; whites, Hispanics and African Americans; school boards and politicians at every level—we’d all broken our promises of equal opportunity under the law to two generations of poor kids. Right there, I vowed that whatever we did, we could not continue to do what we had been doing for the previous four decades. There could be no more excuses – not poverty, not money, not union rights, not political deals on school boards. Everything with real, reasonable potential had to be tried, and everything had to change."


    17. Would you send your child to a Success Academy? If you don't see that these charters don't offer good choices there's something wrong with you.

      "Competition" is not effective or magical. The deregulation of phone companies did not bring better service or lower rates.

      The quote about unions and the economy was obviously about the economy in general, not teachers' unions, so you are being deliberately disingenuous, i.e. dishonest.

      The only person who negotiates teachers' contracts with the union is the superintendent. The board gives approval and can be involved but usually is not very much. Nobody at the state level has anything to do with it. Either you are so ignorant about the process that you should not be discussing the topic, or you are being deliberately dishonest.

      I don't know what's wrong with other places, but I've taught in every high school in my urban district in my city in Ohio. I've taught lowest level freshman English classes in the most disadvantaged school. I've also successfully taught foreign language to students with cognitive disabilities. I've never had a student who was "functionally illiterate", as Dean says he saw in 2008 in New Orleans. I've never seen teachers decide not to do their best because they were in a high poverty school. I've never seen union leaders tell teachers in high poverty schools, "That's okay, you can suck as a teacher because we don't have to do any better with disadvantaged kids."

      I mistakenly thought you could have good intentions, but your dishonesty shows you must be a shill after all.

  4. - Success
    Of course, I'd send my kids to Success Academy - especially if it were a choice between PS 123 (where only 4% of kids pass the state math tests) and Success (where 96% of kids pass). The fact that you wouldn't do so is ONLY relevant for YOUR kids. I've noticed a common theme in your comments that if you wouldn't choose X, then it must be bad and no one should be able to choose X. That's not the way freedom works.

    - Competition
    ""Competition" is not effective or magical. The deregulation of phone companies did not bring better service or lower rates." Are you serious ? The fact that you would state this seriously calls into question your credentials as a teacher. See link below showing data on long distance telephone rates from the FCC. See Table 1.2 where from 1984 (when AT&T was forced to breakup) rates on long distance declined from 5.24 c/min to .07 c/min in 2001. That's a decline of 98%. I'd say that's pretty magical


    - Unions in general
    Sounds like you are pretty uninformed how unions work in the marketplace to constrain supply and drive up prices. The resulting loss of production (from artificially high prices reducing supply and demand) is a loss to the economy in general. I wanted to make this easy for you so I found a video explaining it. I would have provided a cartoon version if I could have found one.


    - Teacher Contracts
    I understand how teacher contracts are negotiated. As I've already stated, most teachers union spending is on local school boards. Those boards pick the superintendent and must approve union contracts. So the incest between teachers unions and their purported bosses who both negotiate contracts with and depend on campaign contributions from teachers unions is pretty clear. As an example, see the $450,000 that the AFT donated in New Orleans school board elections.


    - Teachers for Poor kids
    It's not enough (not nearly enough) for teachers unions to avoid saying, ""That's okay, you can suck as a teacher because we don't have to do any better with disadvantaged kids." Doing nothing is just as bad as condoning failure. If I bring my car which is having engine problems to a mechanic ... who then returns it to me unrepaired, he is NOT doing his job just because he didn't create the engine problem in the first place. It is his job to fix the issue. Teachers unions have had decades (not years, decades) to try to improve public education and have failed our poorest children miserably. They (and you) should be ashamed.

    I'd actually have some respect for teachers unions if they stood up, accepted responsibility for student performance and adopted the reforms which have worked for charters ... but insisted on higher compensation for teachers AND transition money for teachers displaced by reforms. But that's not what teachers do. Instead, they rely on excuses and the politicians that they purchase to keep their cushy monopoly as long as possible. Well, that day is coming to an end. If unions lose in Friedrich's, you'll likely see teachers unions start to weaken from within their own ranks. Combine this with the growth of non-union charters (already up to 6,500 schools) and you and your union buddies may look back and regret the time you were so intransigent. If you think it can't happen, just look at the UAW.

  5. In spite of what you think, unions do not run school districts.

    Starting years and years ago, my union worked in collaboration with administration to adopt reforms that you state work for charters, such as longer school days in poor areas, besides creating magnet and alternative schools. They also created merit pay in the form of a highly-lauded "career ladder," which did not create the anticipated results. Your accusations are false.

    Children are not cars or robots.

    Unions are not bad for the economy. See IMF reference.

    I didn't want to believe it, because it's so depressing to believe people like you
    exist, but from everything you've said, the only conclusions to be drawn are that you understand nothing about teaching and learning and care less; you don't believe in our representative form of democracy; money is your religion; you don't believe government should exist; you think corporations should own everything; you're an anarcho-corporatist.

  6. - Rules - "unions do not run school districts." And the UAW doesn't run the auto companies. But by setting the rules that inhibit educational performance and reward longevity rather than merit, the teachers unions create an environment for failure. The quote from Al Shanker, former head of the largest teachers union, says it all:
    ""When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children."

    - Reforms - The fact that your union led school tried to implement some of these reforms and failed is not surprising. Consider merit pay. Some schools in IL tried merit pay for Algebra teachers. However, the test was simply whether the students had increased their understanding of Algebra by 10% over the year. As you can imagine, this was easily achieved meaning that all teachers received the bonus. But this wasn't really a test of merit given the ease of reaching the desired level.

    Of course, children are not cars or robots. But market oriented reforms have been demonstrated in a variety of service fields such as healthcare. *

    And yes, I exist. How dare I as a father of four want a better life for my children which is often achieved through education. How dare I think about the welfare of poor families who likewise seek the American Dream ? Shouldn't we all bow at the altar of unions and their monopolistic practices ? If plaintiffs win in Friedrich's (which you haven't addressed), then you might find yourself wanting to learn more about market practices ... since this is the only way unions will survive - by offering a compelling product for an attractive price (dues). When you figure that out, let me know.