Flypaper

Liam Julian

The New York Times thinks the Big Apple's unemployable teachers should be fired.

Liam Julian

Coby will no doubt disagree with this interpretation. But his conclusion reminds one of that advanced by "post-partisans," those who think we should move beyond our (in Coby's words) "heated, theory-driven arguments" and find that hallowed, middle ground.

I recall National Review's Jonah Goldberg pointing out recently that post-partisan people are no such thing. In fact, they're actually very partisan folks who couch their ideas in post-partisan language and pressure others to accept a "compromise" that is, in reality, a surrender. Coby writes that we've reached a stalemate about the appropriateness of paying students for test scores and attendance, and that therefore we should simply allow districts to experiment with paying students for test scores and attendance and see if it works. Such experimentation is precisely what I'm arguing against, for lots of reasons, so I don't see myself accepting his solution.

I have no problem with the Baltimore program, though, which, if I understand it correctly, gives kids a certain amount of money to invest in the stock market and lets them keep the??dollars they earn from their investments.

This is different??from paying kids to attend class. In the stock market, making money is the return, so when we allow students to keep the dollars they earn through their investment savvy, we educate by replicating reality. When we inject cash incentives into areas where they do not belong, however, we pervert the incentives that already exist and students learn nothing for it. If they...

Starting today, I'll do a weekly roundup of New York City union boss Randi Weingarten's most ridiculous statements from the week past. An occasional spot in the Gadfly (see here and here, for example) just doesn't do justice to the incredible dexterity with which she warps logic and reason.

This week's selection comes from this article in yesterday's New York Times about a New Teacher Project report showing that "New York City is paying $81 million over two years in salaries and benefits for teachers without permanent teaching jobs":

The report drew praise from city officials. But Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, dismissed it, calling the New Teacher Project a "wholly owned subsidiary" of the Education Department.... "The most repulsive part of this report is that the D.O.E. is abdicating its responsibility to help the teachers who, through no fault of their own, have lost their positions," Ms. Weingarten added. "It's the quintessential blame-the-victim strategy."

Yes, that's right Randi, it's not these teachers' fault that they can't find open positions in the biggest system in the country. I'm sure these teachers are all America's best and brightest....

Students from neighboring districts badly want in to the Copley-Fairlawn City Schools, so they're sneaking in. In response, the district is offering cash rewards for anyone who rats out the illegals. Yeesh.

In the Weekly Standard, Liam reviews Anthony Kronman's Education's End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life, which, he reports, picks up where William Buckley left off in God and Man at Yale--lamenting what has gone wrong in higher education, in Kronman's case that academic specialization in the humanities has brushed aside "the meaning-of-life questions that are so basic and important."

Universities today may avoid the existential questions, but never let that be said about Flypaper, where the solemn search for truth (in education policy) is alive and well.

Yes, Liam, I do disagree with your interpretation of my post. I'm not claiming to be "post-partisan" or even looking for a "hallowed middle ground." In calling for a much more hands-off approach to public education, where school districts are freer to experiment with all kinds of pedagogical ideas and take risks that will put a lot of people off, I'm taking a pretty definite, and definitely not conciliatory stance.

And to clarify further, I'm simply suggesting that we draw a distinction between pedagogical debates and policy debates. For a while we've debated the pedagogical merits and hazards of paying kids to do x. We haven't neared a consensus, nor have those closer to the actual programs, judging from the press coverage.

Therefore, I argue, our pedagogical arguments having been aired, let's not press policymakers to enshrine either side's preferred course of action in an inflexible, all-or-nothing public policy. Let's let the idea play out in the classrooms and see whether or not it works.

Here's more on paying students for performance, this time in Baltimore.

We've already sparred over this topic on the blog, and I tend to agree with Liam and most other opponents of this strategy that a) learning is deeply rewarding for its own sake and is degraded when treated as an article of commerce, and b) paying kids to learn may, in fact, give them an incentive not to learn. Economist Tyler Cowen talked about this second point in a recent interview:

[Take the example of] trying to get my stepdaughter to do the dishes more often. The normal model of the family is children contribute something, but once you start paying them to do the dishes they treat it like a marketplace. It's like, "Yeah, I can do the dishes, get the money, or not do the dishes, not get the money. Eh, it's not worth it." The sense of obligation goes away. It's just like a set of contracts, you're not a parent anymore, you're ceding authority.

On the other hand, the Petrillians have a point in saying that, for kids who show little hope of ever passing remedial math and reading classes, how could trying this hurt?

I think the lesson here is that when a debate like this over the wisdom of a particular pedagogical approach reaches a stalemate, it's time to let schools and districts experiment. The greatest innovations in every sector come not from heated, theory-driven arguments...

We appreciate Eduwonk Andy's nice plug of our Catholic schools report, and agree with him that public funding should come in return for some "substantial reciprocal obligations on the part of parochial schools," which he says "they have thus far resisted." We suspect he means the release of test score data, which Scott Hamilton addresses in our report's introduction:

In an increasingly competitive environment for schools, and with the imperfect but rich array of school information about public schools now available, the dearth of student achievement data and other information about Catholic schools represents either archaic (possibly even smug or defensive) secrecy or a grievous failure to observe how the education world has changed since the days when parishioners could simply be admonished to send their children to a Catholic school. In the era of No Child Left Behind, Catholic schools must make a commitment to measure their performance and make the results (and much more) available to one and all. Arguably, they should provide more such information than their public school counterparts.

I'm not so sure that parochial schools would resist this, however, if real money were on the table. At least when I played a bit part in implementing the District of Columbia's federally-funded school voucher program, it became clear to me that the Catholic schools were desperate enough for the dollars that they would have done virtually anything, including making all of their test score data public. It was the secular independent...

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