Thursday, July 31, 2014

What Ever Happened to Learn More Go Further?

In honor of Throwback Thursday, I decided to follow up on one of my favorite reformy intiatives. Mounted by way of Jeb Bush by way of FEE, and the US Chamber by way of the Higher State Standards Partnership, "Learn More. Go Further" was going to set the grass roots ablaze with Common Core love.

I first wrote about LMGF back at the end of March (the media program launched March 19), noting that the whole business was a scaled-up version of a Florida CCSS-pushing program. I visited their site and while there were details to parse, my bottom line was that "every piece of bullshit you've ever heard about the CCSS regime of reform is here, in slickly well-designed webullar glory." 

Part of their charm was a ham-handed attempt at social mediaizing the program. "I hear folks like the twitter," said some well-paid consultant. "Let's use some of the twitter." And so LMGF sent four teacher ladies (two charters, a cyber, and one reading specialist-turned-administrator) to show the world that good, wholesome, American teachers loved them some CCSS. The ladies were given two twitter accounts apiece (one national, one Floridian). The accounts were promoted, the ladies started posting pro-CCSS stuff about twice a day while not really engaging anyone. My reading of some of their responses suggested to me that they were specifically aimed at conservative holdouts. One might conclude that this program was driven, at least in part, by Jeb's realization that Common Core was not a pony he could ride to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

The other day I suddenly realized that the ladies weren't turning up as promoted twitter recommendations. In fact, I hadn't seen them in a while. 

What has happened to Learn More. Go Further?

Short answer-- they appear to have to that big lobbying lounge in the sky.

They had some moments. When the Louis CK flap blew up, LMGF gave a comment to BBC Trending because, I don't know, somebody had to? And Sachs Media Group won a Digital Advertising Silver Addy for some of the slides in the program.

But the twittering ladies have gone silent. Each racked up a little over a hundred tweets, and all four fell silent on May 30. May 30 is also the last day that Learn More Go Further posted anything on their Facebook fan page (which actually is more closely connected to the Florida version of LMGF), or tweeted under their own group handle. Their "newsroom" hasn't picked up anything new since mid-May. 

And when you click on [contact us], you are taken to the website for the Salsa Group, apparently the outfit that provided the platform for the website (and does so for many political fundraisy groups). This was disappointing because I was actually going to pick up the phone and act like a journalist. Back to being lazy again.

Jeb's backing of the Core and all the political problems that go with it have been much discussed. This piece from the Tampa Bay Times, published the day after LMGF went dark, lays it out as well as any of them.

Learn More Go Further was supposed to fix that. It was supposed to sell the Core and testing with four pretty faces and lots of American flags, and it failed and slunk away quietly into the dark night of the internet. Yes, Bush could legitimately blame the failure on somebody's inability to master the tools of social media. 

But clumsy social media skills aren't the explanation. It's the message. Jeb Bush and the US Chamber tried hard to sell the Common Core with this program, and they failed. I hope the four teachers are enjoying an extra fun vacation that lasts all summer. I hope Bush gets to enjoy a vacation that lasts even longer.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Conservatives Backing Away from Reform

Stephanie Simon's Politico piece "Mom's winning the Common Core war" includes a sort of second breath rededication of purpose from Michael Petrilli at the Fordham Institute and Wes Farno at Higher State Standards Partnership, a group that we've met before working hand in hand with Jeb Bush's FEE and the US Chamber of Commerce. Both Fordham and HSSP are big-fans of the Core (or, at least, big fans of being paid to promote the Core).

“We’ve been fighting emotion with talking points, and it doesn’t work,” said Mike Petrilli, executive vice president of the Fordham Institute, a leading supporter of the standards. “There’s got to be a way to get more emotional with our arguments if we want to win this thing. That means we have a lot more work to do.”

“The Common Core message so far has been a head message. We’ve done a good job talking about facts and figures. But we need to move 18 inches south and start talking about a heart message,” said Wes Farno.

Beyond the practical advice we might offer Farno (specifically, measure twice, cut once, and don't accidentally talking to peoples' intestines or genitals), there's a case to be made that these guys have missed the mark both on the diagnosis and the prescription. But don't take my word for it. listen to some actual conservatives.

Neal McCluskey of the CATO institute has been on the No Love For CCSS bus for quite a while, and his "Core Reporters: We've Just Been Too Darned Principled" pulls no punches.

The argument for the Core – to the extent one has even been given – has mainly been a simple one of “build high standards and success will come.”...This ignores the major empirical evidence I and many others have brought against the Core, and national standards generally, showing that standards – much less the Core itself – have demonstrated no such power. 

He goes on to observe that the Core defense strategy has depended on neither evidence nor data nor facts, but on calling opponents names. And indeed, both in Simon's article and back in David Coleman's Aspen Chat, the new refrain in reformville is "No, we never should have called those guys names. They're actually fine people."

But we don't have to travel to CATO to find conservatives with doubts. On Tuesday, Andy Smarick posted on Fordham's own blog a piece that asks the question "Is education reform anti-conservative?" Smarick frames the question with his own personal journey (throwing caution to the wind and forgetting David Coleman's admonition that nobody gives a shit what he feels or thinks").

Smarick says he has become "restive" about reform (which would make a fine song lyric or t-shirt) and after considering many of the things he's restive about (failure to operationally embrace diversity, too much compromise with hidebound traditionalists), he finds his answer:

After months of frustration, I finally put my finger on the essence of the problem: there is no conservatism in today’s education reform...

Others might argue contemporary K–12 reform is premised on conservative principles (expanding choice, utilizing competition, resisting public-sector unionism), so I should stop bellyaching. But this free-market orientation is only one strand of conservatism.

He enumerates some conservative values that are lacking in school reform, including a respect for tradition, and an aversion to activist government that leads to respect for evolutionary, not revolutionary, change. And I just want to point that I've been saying this for a while-- I come from a whole family of traditional conservatives, and the current state of ed reform is not something they are in tune with.

Meanwhile, Rick Hess continues to be in front of the conservative discussion of reform. A while back he asked the question, "What should conservatives be for in education?" (and I answered it), and while I don't always agree with Hess's conclusions, he's a conservative who's generally willing to behave like a grownup and exhibit some intellectual honesty.

About a week ago Hess celebrated the anniversary of Race to the Top by examining what a cock-up it turned out to be. He notes two serious flaws in RttT; it's an underachieving list, like making a list of two attractive women at the Miss America pageant, but the two observations are worth noting.

One is rarely mentioned, but significant-- by offering up a plate of money at a moment of financial disaster, the feds gave states a way to put off solving problems. States looking at real financial crises said, "Okay, our solution is to plug the hole with these free federal funds." This turns out to be somewhat like treating a compound leg fracture with strong doses of pain killers; eventually the pain killers wear off and you're in even worse trouble.

The second is more familiar-- a version of the "if only the feds had stayed out." However, instead of the usual imaginary world where states all signed up to Common Core their hearts out, Hess envisions "a collaborative effort of 15 or so enthusiastic states." But by rushing the whole process and forcing, by RttT or by waiver, every state to climb on board, the feds "pushed states to hurriedly adopt new teacher evaluation systems and specifically to use test results to gauge teachers, not-ready-for-primetime evaluation systems are now entangled with the Common Core and new state tests." Common Core and its various attached reformy things could have been a contender, but now Hess fears it's just a cautionary tale.

So what actually happened? The answer, I suspect, is in Smarick's line

But this free-market orientation is only one strand of conservatism.

As I've told many of my civilian friends, the reformster assault doesn't make much sense when you try to parse it as liberal versus conservatives-- you end up with all sorts of people on the "wrong" side. But when you reframe it as "corporate $$" versus "educational concerns," it suddenly makes a lot more sense.

Both parties, both political bents, are infested with people who are far more concerned about corporate bucks than... well, anything.

I don't believe that the rush to RttT that Hess decries was the result of just political ambition or simple over-reaching wonkery-- I'd bet that behind the scenes were corporate folks like Pearson et al who could just taste all the delicious money to be made if the feds would just open up the entire education market. Folks who could smell that enormous pile of money, who were writing pieces about education as the next big investment opportunity-- they were not going to settle for a measly fifteen states poking along toward Core-centered reform.

It's hard to tell where some people fall on the political spectrum these days, but it's really easy to tell whether big business pays their bills or not. We've watched money infect the process of defending the country and providing a food supply by warping and twisting the political process surrounding those sectors. Today we're simply living through the same infection spreading into education.

There are always going to be some serious conservative-liberal disagreements about how public education should work, but we all ought to be able to agree that money-driven political baloney does NOT improve the situation.

BATS and Arne

There's not a lot for me to add to Mark Naison's account of the meeting between six BAT representatives and several Department of Education reps, including Arne Duncan. You should be giving that a read, if for no other reason than it represents a moment when the USDOE paid attention to teachers that they themselves hadn't chosen to talk to.

There are just a couple of moments that I want to highlight.

First, Marla Kilfoyle expressed her concerns about the Department's new policy of testing students with disabilities into a magical state of Not Having Disabilities. 

Secretary Duncan deflected her remarks by saying that the Department was concerned that too many children of color were being inappropriately diagnosed as being Special Needs children  and that once they were put in that category they were permanently marginalized. He then said “We want to make sure that all student are exposed to a rigorous curriculum.”

So... we're afraid that too many children of color are being mislabeled as having special needs, so rather than fix that, we're just going to operate on a new assumption that students labeled special needs don't actually have special needs. This is perhaps not the most direct way to attack that particular problem (we might start by checking to see how big a problem it is).

Then this, in a discussion of VAM and school closings, leading to the subject of teacher evaluation.

They two officials [one communications guy and an intern] had no real answer to what Dr Wiliams was saying and deflected attention from his critique by insisting that we needed to hold teachers accountable by student test scores because there was no other way of making sure teachers took every student seriously and helped all of them reach their full potential.

It's not that we didn't deduce this already, but there's your statement. Teachers are the problem. We don't want to do our jobs and the only way we can be made to do our jobs is with threats, because that's the only thing we will possibly respond to. 

It would be interesting to climb in my time-space machine and ask that un-named intern exactly what sorts of threats got him to take his interning position. Or is he perhaps interning away because he believes in the work and thinks he's Doing Something Important that uses his skills and knowledge to their best advantage. 

No matter. As long as the assumption in DC is that teachers will only do their jobs properly when cajoled and threatened, fire to their feet and boots to their asses, we are going to get policy designed to punish teachers. 

I have no idea what might actually come out of the meeting, but it's certainly heartening to many folks to know that some unedited unfiltered words were spoken in a DOE meeting room. That, and a face to face meeting, is no small thing.

The engageNY CCSS Primer

In which engageNY provides a brief explanation of why the Core is baloney

That one-stop-shopping for fully sliced Core baloney, engageNY, has a simple chart that can be used to see why the Core is, along with all its other flaws, not particularly necessary.

"Pedagogical shifts demanded by the Common Core State Standards" is a handy list of twelve shifts (six math, six ELA) that teachers implementing the Core must make "to be truly aligned with it in terms of curricular materials and classroom instruction." There are only twelve, so let's have a look, shall we?

Balancing Informational and Literary Texts

Just so you know, this is just a short chart, so there will be no support for any of this. David Coleman just thinks that students would benefit from rich texts about non-fiction subjects because, well, he thinks so.

Knowledge of the Disciplines

That's what the heading says. The "explanation" says "students build knowledge about the world (domains/content areas) through TEXT rather than the teacher or activities." So apparently one "pedagogical shift" will be for teachers to stop pedagogying. "Here's a book, kid. Go get smart."

Staircase of Complexity

"Students read the central grade appropriate text around which instruction is centered." Other than the "grade appropriate" part ("Stop whining, Chris. Just because you can only read at third grade level, that's no reason for you not to just read this seventh grade level text. I don't want to hear about your frustration"), is there anything here that we needed a national standards movement to establish. But wait-- there's more--

"Teachers are patient, create more time and space and support in the curriculum for close reading." As an interesting side note, "and support" seems to have been added in an edit. So remember teachers-- be patient and supportive. Stop being impatient and abusive which, apparently, was the previous pedagogical standard in NY? You heard it here first. Also, remember to give each a student area open enough to have to turn the books' pages.

Text Based Answers

"Students engage in rich and rigorous evidence based conversations about text." This remains one of the great Hallmarks of Stupid in the Annals of Core Lunacy. Remember, when discussing The Sun Also Rises, never mention The Great European War. When covering "The Gettysburg Address" you certainly don't want to mention the Battle of Gettysburg.

And when teaching smaller children, definitely never allow them to make connections between what you're reading and their lives. Which is kind of hilarious, because I teach high school but my wife teaches first grade, and I know what happens in first grade as soon as you say, "So, this puppy is brown. Does anybody know anything about brown puppies?" But remember-- it's never too early to explain to students that their own lives, experiences, and knowledge are unimportant and not worth sharing or consulting. Just what's on the page, kids.

Writing from sources

Yes, absolutely. Previously teachers have just told students, "When you write a paper about this subject, just make stuff up." Remember: when making an argument, your ideas have no value. (Unless you are David Coleman)

Academic vocabulary

This represents a bit of a Common Core head fake, because we're all supposed to be taking academic vocabulary OUT of instruction because David Coleman has decreed that it will be taken out of the SAT. But I do think it's fun that jargon is now a pedagogical shift. A good thing once again, as I have been teaching writing students to just "look at that thingy with the stuff in that lump of wordy things."

Now, the other six are math shifts, but I think even I, an English teacher, can spot the problems here.


Do less, more deeply. I never understand how this is supposed to work in math. Isn't math fundamentally sequential? Will slowing the sequence down not ultimately reduce the amount of actual math involved in a high school education?


This one says, I kid you not, "Principals and teachers carefully connect the learning within and across grades so that students can build new understanding onto foundations built in previous years." And I'm thinking that even if your previous math curriculum planning was "Let's buy a math textbook series and use it across all the years of our school" you already had this covered. This is a shift??!! A big, new change that CCSS will usher in? What the hell have you guys in New York been doing??


Students are supposed to have speed and accuracy for simple calculations, and teachers are to make time for them to memorize core functions (not Core functions). Now THIS is good, old-fashioned state-level response to a New Education Program. You take what you want to do, and then blame it on the NEP. If there's anything that's been clear about CCSS, it's that memorization is out, and doing simple things in long convoluted ways to show that you Really Understand what's going on is in. Way to be an old school rebel, engageNY.

Deep Understanding

Here we go. Students don't just learn "the trick" to getting the right answer. They understand the math. Because getting the right answer is just a trick. Would that we had more tricky people in the world.


Students are expected to use math and choose the right application even when not prompted to do so. So, after teaching them for years that every problem should engender multiple responses, the more arcane the better, students should conclude that this means there is really just one right approach to pick.

Dual Intensity

Students are practicing and understanding. Both of them. Again-- a shocking, radical shift, but only in the sense that if this represents a shift, what the hell were teachers doing before?

So there you have it, in brief. EngageNY's interpretation of the Core-- one part useless foolishness, one part stuff that isn't actually in the CCSS, and one part pedagogy that any non-brain-dead teacher was already using. Thank goodness the CCSS are here to save us.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

One True Path

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

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

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

You've seen this cartoon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 28, 2014

David Coleman Is Superman!

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

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

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

David Coleman is the Superman everyone has been waiting for.

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

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

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

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

 Tougher than malaria

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

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

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

The burdens of poweriness

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

Coleman, instead of answering that, meditates on power.

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

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

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

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

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

Setting the record straight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you notice?

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

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

Why tug on Superman's cape?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seasoned Teachers Not Getting Filthy Rich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Why Teachers Should Be Paid Less ??!!

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

So why should we look at it.

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

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

Our starting problem

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

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

We're already on the wrong track

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

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

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

School's turn down the brightest applicants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Having the best GPA makes you a teacher.

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

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

2) Teaching is not an actual skill set.

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

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

Higher teacher pay equals lower teacher quality

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

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

And here comes the important conclusion--

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

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

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

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

So what does Richwine think the answer is?

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

Lower the entry requirements to become a teacher.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PS. Who is Jason Richwine?

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

Bottom line

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

Pearson Set Cut Scores for NYS

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

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

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

Pearson set the cut scores for the test

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

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

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

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

From a separate article in the series:

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

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

In other news

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

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

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

And then there's the process itself

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

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

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

Saturday, July 26, 2014

College Students vs. Faux Journalism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

How Much Money Is Tenure Worth?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memo to Three-Year-Old Slackers

To: American Three-Year-Olds
From: America's Education Reform Thought Leaders'
Re: Get to work, you lazy slackers

It has come to our attention that your older brothers and sisters have been showing up to Kindergarten completely unprepared for the requirements of a rigorous education. It is time to nip this indolent behavior in the bud. You probably don't even know what 'indolent" means, do you? Dammit-- this is exactly why Estonia and Singapore are challenging the US for world domination!

It's time for you to understand-- the party is over. We waited patiently for you to get potty trained and weaned off breast feeding on your own schedule, and that was probably a mistake because it led you to believe that you could just do things when you're good and ready. Well, no more. We're on to you. We saw you spend all that time crawling instead of walking because walking was just tooo haaard. Wah, wah, wah. We're done coddling you. The state has a schedule for you, and you are damn well going to get with it. You got to float around all free and easy in your Mommy's non-rigorous womb, and that's enough time off for anyone.

No, I don't want to see the pretty picture that you drew, unless you can explain what sources and data contributed to your compositional choices. You really need to be synthesizing two or more disparate sources for your pictures. And stick to the prompt-- I said draw a picture of an important Sumerian ceremony, not a bunny and a sun. And stop getting up every ten seconds to go look at something. You need to start learning how to focus properly. Sit in that chair and draw for the next ninety minutes without getting up.

Sitting will be good preparation for testing. Of course we're going to test you. How else will we know whether or not you are on track for college? Yes, I know your Mommy says she loves you and you can do anything, but what the hell does she know. Only a good solid expensive standardized test can tell us whether or not you are college material. Stop whining and get your pudgy little hand wrapped around that mouse. C'mon-- show some grit.

I know this is a lot to take in, and we really would have started last year when you were two, but frankly, all you would say was "no" over and over again. It's possible that terrible twos are the educational barrier that we can't break past. But now you're three, and all we have to break you of is this tendency to be distracted by childlike wonder and joy, and this ridiculous desire to play all the time. We must get you ready for Kindergarten, or you will never get into a good college and then we won't have the workers we need to compete globally and our leaders will lose supreme command of the universe and our corporations will have access to fewer markets. You don't want that, do you? You don't know what "compete globally" means? See, this is what we're talking about. Go sit down and write a six-sentence paragraph utilizing multiple sources about economic developments in post-agrarian societies, using non-fiction sources from government websites.

Look, kid. Everybody wants you to be Kindergarten-ready, so you've got to practice sitting inert, taking senseless tests, and being properly compliant. You need experience in going days at a time without playing, and I'm a little concerned that your napping is getting out of hand. And don't think your teacher is going to let you off the hook-- we know how soft and wimpy she is, and we've taken care of her.

Does everyone want this for all three year olds? Well, no, actually. Chad and Buffy, you can disregard this memo. Shaniqua and Bubba Jean-- you'd better listen up.

No Shocking News About Principals In Study

In all of public education, is there a job that has gotten worse in past years than that of principals? And yes-- there are many, many truly terrible principals out there. How surprising is that, really? Who would want to sign up for a job that provides all of the responsibility with none of the power and the absolute guarantee that somebody in your district will be hating pretty much every decision that you make.

At least, that's the common perception. And I would love to find some sexy, click-baity spin to put on the study just released by the USDOE, but the most surprising thing in the study is the degree to which things don't suck in the front office. But there's still some interesting data here about the state of principalling in US education.

The National Center for Educational Statistics has released the findings of its 2012-2013 follow-up survey that was designed to check principal attrition rates, and while the survey is not exactly chock full of shocks and surprises, there's some interesting data to be unpacked.

We'll be looking at what happened between the 11-12and 12-13 school years.

There were 114,330 principals in the US. Over that span, 78% stayed in place. 6% moved to different schools (movers), 12% left the field (leavers), and another 5% went... somewhere, but we didn't get that data. So, mystery departures.

The rates of departure were pretty even between male and female principals.

Between private and public, some differences emerge when you break it down by age. In the under-45 crowd, private schools had 11% attrition, while public schools had 8%. In 45-54, private had 9% and public 8%, and over 55, private schools had 13% leavers and public 20%. Of those leavers, retirements only accounted for roughly a third-- 38% of the public and 30% of the private leavers were retirees.

Of movers, 54% of the public principals moved to another school in the same district, with 6-9 year veterans most likely to make that kind of move. 70% of the private school principals moved to another private school, and that move became less likely, the more years of experience they had. The movers who jumped from private to public or public to private were tiny, tiny, tiny.

The fun parts of the report come in the charts. Here are some fun facts about the State of Principalling in 2011-2012.

In public schools, age distribution is more even than you might expect. Of the 89,453 public school principals, 35,630 were under-45, 29,650 were 45-54, and 24,250 were over-55. But even though teaching is predominantly female, only 51% of principals are women. 10% are African American, and just under 7% are Latino.

44% of the principals had been at their school for less than three years. Only 11% had been there more than ten. One piece of good news-- only 7% had had less than five years in a classroom before moving into the office. That figure was 18% for private schools.

In public schools, 53% of principals reported and over-sixty-hour work week.

In public schools, 73% of principals felt they had a major influence on setting performance standards, but only 43% felt they had a hand in establishing curriculum. While have-strong-influence numbers were high for hiring, handling discipline, and teacher evaluation, only 64% felt they had a big say in how the budget would be spent. The picture is very similar in private schools. None of these factors appear to correlate strongly with departure.

So. The world of principals not quite so bad, apparently. We do have the same problem there that we have in the classroom-- a population that doesn't look much like the student population. But we are not hemorrhaging principals in the same way we're losing teachers. Of course, there are some principals we would like to lose, but that's another column.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Racing to the Bottom: The New School Leadership Challenge

As the assault on public education continues, school leaders face an unprecedented challenge-- how to win the race to the bottom without being too obvious about it.

Occasionally, somebody notices that a district is becoming too successful in trashing its own mission. Just this week in Indianapolis, members of the school board noticed that about 200 teachers-- almost 10% of the entire teaching staff-- had bailed out in the last three months. Theories included that teachers were leaving for neighboring districts that paid better (which is apparently all of them). Solutions included signing up with TNTP to get more bodies shipped in toot de suite, and strengthening the policy on giving notice.

Of course, some regions don't worry about tipping their hands. Cleveland has been pretty straightforward about its desire to gut public schools for a charter system, staffed with TFA temps. And of course when it comes to destroying public education wholesale and ending teaching as a viable career, nobody holds a candle to North Carolina (although Florida would really like to try). In addition to being poached by its neighbors, folks have come all the way from Houston to convince North Carolina teachers that indeed, many things could be finer than to be in Carolina in September.

Some inequality of destruction is good. In particular, it allows teachers to hope that Somewhere Out There is a district that it doesn't suck to work for. Hope may keep them a little more quiet and pliable. Winning the race to the bottom is about being worse, but not too much worse.

It's conceivable (though we have no NC proof yet) that accelerating the destruction of your public ed system might make enough noise to wake people up. To trot out a well-worn but handy cliche, you've got a boiling frog problem, and some places are just cranking the heat too high, too fast. The trick is to race to the bottom slowly and carefully, so that you are not too noticeably worse than everyone else. If people will just be patient, I'm sure they can drag down most of the country's institutions of public education eventually.

Mean What You Say

One of the surreal features of the reformster world is the degree to which words simply don't match actions. It's as if someone sold you a can of pop clearly labeled "cola" and when you opened it up, it was filled with furniture polish.

Suppose somebody said, "This is the most important new program we've ever rolled out. It will revolutionize the industry."

Imagine what would come next. Piles of money spent on training. Lots of time and effort preparing your people for the changes. Long strategic planning meetings to figure out how to most effectively roll out the new program. More money and planning devoted to putting the right supports in place, and a review process to catch and adjust any part of the rollout that turns out to have issues on the ground. Think about how a business rolls out a new product, or the work Disney and Pixar put into creating and releasing a new film.

And yet for Common Core, not so much. Instead, a race to get it implemented quickly and quietly, before anyone could stop or slow the adoption. Let's hurry up so we can get to the Corporations Making Money part.

Or imagine somebody said, "We must get great teachers into every classroom."

What would you think they were about to do? Raise great gouts of money so that they could aggressively recruit and retain the very best? Offer good teachers perks like offices and resources-- maybe hire administrative assistants so that teachers could spend less time dong clerical work and making copies. Perhaps offering teachers job security and retention bonuses. Lots of continuing education at no cost to the teacher, allowing her to keep her edge and grow. And an administrative system that focuses on getting those good teachers the tools they need and allowing them autonomy to use their best professional judgment. And you'd want to find highly trained, super-qualified people to hire (not folks who learned how to teach at a month or two of summer camp.0

And yet, the call for good teachers invariably travels hand in hand with a call to reduce teacher job security and let teachers know that we reserve the right to fire them at any time.

Most reformster teacher-related discussion is backwards. "We must give merit bonuses to the best teachers" invariably means "We must pay everyone else less." We pair a search to find and reward teacher greatness with an evaluation system that says nobody is great for more than an occasional spurt. We declare our interest in great teachers, and then we act as if looking for such teachers is an educational snipe hunt.

What if someone said, "We must put the needs of students ahead of the concerns of adults."

Wouldn't you imagine that this person was about to figure out the needs of students actually are? Might they not start by saying, "Damn! Look at how many children live in poverty. We'd better make sure that they are decently fed and clothed. No matter how much adults don't want to pay for it or talk about how to fix it, we are going to get on that."

Would a group that put students first not do things like, say, consult the vast body of research about how students develop and learn and demand--demand!!-- that educational policies reflect what the research tells us about the growth of human cognition and skills in children. Such a group would declare, "Sire, I do not care how much money you have invested in this program. It clearly does not meet the needs of our students, so good day to you, sir. I said, good day."

Would a group so concerned with the needs of students not consult and listen attentively to the groups of adults in this country professionally devoted to meeting the needs of children and working with those same children-- pediatricians, social workers, and, oh yeah, teachers. Would that group not work with parents, and might they not (cray thought) go out and find some actual students and listen to them.

Instead, we have reformsters who start with the assumption that, somehow, teacher needs and student needs are always diametrically opposed; therefor, if you are denying a teacher request, you must be doing something good for students.

Riding in the great clown car of reform is like riding with someone who keeps saying, "We need to turn right now," and then turns left. Eventually, you start to doubt your own understanding of right and left.

Well, don't doubt. One of the central features of the school reformsters is that the repeatedly say "right" and then turn "left." You are not crazy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My Doctoral Thesis

I've been following the problems of Dr. Terrence Carter in Connecticut with some interest. It seems that the Dr., "hand picked by Arne Duncan" might not have an actual PhD. Not even a super-easy PhD, but a PhD he just bought. Faked the whole thing. And he's not remotely alone in this.

How can somebody do that, I wondered. Seriously, how do you do that?

Turns out the answer is, "Very easily." Googling "get PhD on line" turns up a ton of paid placements. Walden, Trident, Capella-- they are all jostling for the top of the google heap. But these still require the performance of some nominal classwork. That would be just tooooo haaaaardd. I want to be a school superintendent next week. Can I do better?

Sure can. Just halfway down the second page of results, I found these guys.

They are not particularly subtle or sneaky. "BUY A PHD" says the opening headline. "We are waiting for your order to buy a PhD from us." But let them explain further.

Although quite demanding, people would still prefer to reach for greater heights in terms of academic qualifications.  This is the reason why a doctorate is being offered to maximize the potential of an individual.  Being called a doctor even if you are not a medical doctor by degree is such music in the ears.  To buy a doctorate degree gives a level of competency.  Since it is the highest possible academic degree, you can explore a lot of opportunities if you have credentials that would prove a doctorate degree.

"To buy a doctorate degree gives a level of competency." Well, there you have it. Don't waste your time in classes. It's the degree itself that magically confers prowess on the person. Don't laugh too hard unless you can tell me that you don't know people with "real" doctorates that think the same way.

You can see why a place like this might appeal to someone like Dr. Terrence Carter.

If you buy a PhD you will achieve promotions at your workplace without having to write complex projects and attending classes that will ruin your family or work life.

Yeah, projects and classes that take time just suck.

They do require that you provide some information about work history and prior education (if any). And while the doctorate is their marquee degree-for-sale, these folks offer everything all the way from Associate Degrees up to Honorary Doctorates.

Prices? A Doctorate will run you $250. You can have a professorship for $290. The top-of-the-line honorary doctorate runs $400, while the associate's is a mere $150. You can also indicate how you got the degree-- on line, part time, whatevs. This will "make your documents better."

You can get lots of fine extras. A transcript is $100 (don't forget to indicate what grades you want on it). You can also get up to three letters of recommendation from your professors (boy, do I wish I could see some of those professors' names), and graduation caps, gown and hood. If you're in a real hurry, you can opt for four day delivery by fedex or DHL.

If you doubt the awesomeness, they do have a page of testimonials:

I am a teenage mom and after giving birth to my daughter, i never had time studying in college. I have wanted to become an accountant and land a stable job to support my child. When i got my diploma at oppertuinities for me flooded. My dilemma now is what job i should choose ?? Mommy Tine

It has always been my dream to earn a degree in Doctorate. I have searched for many sites only at expressuinversitydegree i become satisfied. the service is perfect, the degrees are accredited, and the documents are delivered on time. Sally Girbauch, Ph.D

I have enjoyed my previliges being a doctor ! I get the best sit in the plane, I get discounts in restrurants, I get the best promo in my travels. My Ph.D is such as wonder. Dr. Morgan Elenor, Ph.D  in Social Science

Are you beginning to suspect that we have some ELL students working on this site? And no-- no school superintendents offer testimonials.

There is some faith-based leaping involved here. The site would like all your credit card information, plus a piece of id (including a scanned copy). I suppose when you are buying fake credentials on line, you must always consider the possibility that you are dealing with a university run by a Nigerian prince.

It's tempting. A doctorate would give me such clout and importance, and I, too, want the previlige of discounts at restrurants. But even at these prices, I can't really afford it. maybe a kickstarter launch is in order, to con my loyal readers into making my dream come true. Maybe I should ask for some career advice from Dr. Terrence Carter, who appears to have plenty of free time in his future.

Campbell Brown Can't Connect Dots

Monday, Campbell Brown, the new face of the attack on teacher job security, tried to "set the record straight." I suppose she did, a little, in the sense that she made it even clearer that her proposed lawsuit makes no sense. But I'm guessing that's not what she had in mind.

The tenacious New York parents who are challenging the state in court have one goal in mind: ensuring that all of our public school children have good teachers.

You know, I think I could comb the entire country, every state, every school, every teacher's lounge, every grocery store, every ballpark, every haberdashery, every Starbucks, every back alley with bad lighting-- I think I would be hard pressed to find someone who would say, "What I want is for some of the public school children in this country to have crappy teachers. That's what I would like to see."

So let's start out by setting the record straight on that goal-- it's like coming out in favor of air or food or cute puppies. It means nothing.

Lots of people want to see that every student gets a good teacher. Teachers become teachers because they dream of personally being that good teacher. The real issue is how to make that good chicken in every classroom pot dream come true.

An organization devoted to that goal might advocate for any number of things. They might advocate for more attractive teacher pay or working conditions to aid recruitment. They might advocate for a more robust system of professional support and development so that it's easy for teachers to keep getting better. They might demand better funding of ALL public schools from state and federal governments. They might even start by collecting some data beyond the anecdotal about exactly how widespread the problem of not-good teachers in classrooms actually is.

Any of these initiatives might make sense. But Campbell Brown wants us to believe that these parents sat down and said, "You know, of everything that makes it hard to insure a good teacher in every classroom, the biggest most central problem is that teachers have job security. Let's get rid of that."

Campbell says, in her straight record-setting way, "So let us dispense with the absurd: Seeking good teachers for all does not mean you are somehow going after teachers." I think she got it backwards. Going after teachers does not mean you are seeking good teachers.

Campbell tries to assert that her lawsuit is about "working to end laws that are not in the interests of children." But what she has failed to do, and what the Vergara plaintiffs failed to do, is connect these dots-- exactly how are tenure and FILO laws damaging to the interests of children? Or come at it from the other direction-- how would a school climate in which teachers were aware that they could be fired at any time for any reason help students get a better education?

This is central to these suits, and yet it has never been answered.

And in setting the record straight, she only fuzzes things up further. The lawsuit to end tenure would help students, somehow, and besides "for those who have the added due-process protections of tenure, the goal here is only to make sure that system actually makes sense, without undercutting our kids’ constitutional rights."

So, the lawsuit to end tenure is not supposed to end tenure??

And this quote from Arne Duncan "sums it up well." "Tenure itself is not the issue. Job protections for effective teachers are vital to keep teachers from being fired for random or political reasons."

So the longer Campbell works at setting things straight, the more crooked the whole things seems. Also, she adds, civil rights laws.

And tenure doesn't insure good teaching. Well, now, there you have us. Also, food and clothing and windows in a room also do not insure good teaching. If we are going to sue to get rid of everything that does not insure good teaching, we are going to be here a long time.

So what's say we go ahead and stick with things that support good teaching. Like, say, the knowledge that you can't be fired for arbitrary reasons or being too expensive.

Campbell Brown has tried to set the record straight, and yet it is more murky than ever. She is suing-- oh, no, wait-- a group of "tenacious" parents is suing, and Campbell Brown is just--what? Their new BFF? A concerned rich citizen who's now laid off and depending on her husband the charter school magnate to support her? The nice lady who writes their press for them? If this is a tenacious parent lawsuit, why are you here, Campbell? Anyway, somebody is suing in order to-- do something? Get rid of tenure, but not really hoping to fully succeed? Make it easier to fire teachers, but you know, only some teachers, because that will get students a better education... somehow?

As an exercise in record straightening, this was not very successful. I hope the next attempt by America's newest ed crusader is more helpful.