Liam Julian

Judging from several of the comments on my last post, the ideas that undergird merit pay for teachers are not lost only on NPR reporters. Corey, for example, writes:

Does LeBron play better when he's paid $20 million than if he, and everybody else, were paid $1 million? That's a legitimate question. And different from asking if it's fair to pay LeBron the same as everybody else when he's clearly better.

It's also a different question than asking whether the players currently earning $1 million will work harder to try and earn as much as LeBron than they would if they had no potential for salary increases.

What is missing here is an understanding of, inter alia, the job market. Merit pay is engineered not only to develop better teachers by encouraging those already in the field to work harder, but it's also--and maybe more so--designed to attract talented people to classrooms and keep the best teachers from leaving and pursuing other careers. So, yes, it is incredibly foolish to ask, as Larry Abramson did, "Is performance pay working if it just rewards teachers who are already doing a good job?"

Liam Julian

Candidates Obama and McCain have both spoken about their support??for merit pay for teachers. NPR's Morning Edition wondered if such pay plans actually work, so??reporter Larry Abramson went to Colorado to find out.??

After interviewing a teacher who has benefited financially from??merit pay, but who doesn't believe the bonuses have actually improved her teaching ability, Abramson asks:

This raises another question: Is performance pay working if it just rewards teachers who are already doing a good job?

Wow. Can we imagine such a question being applied to another professional field? Is performance pay working if it just rewards LeBron James when he's already doing a good job? If NPR's reporters??have handy??a dictionary, and they must, they might want to check out the definitional passage below the word??incentive.??

The Economist reports this week on Randi Weingarten's election to the AFT presidency.

Pure speculation or not, I find compelling Mike's lead editorial in this week's Gadfly, which argues that extra-curricular activities in U.S. K-12 education foster "creativity, leadership, and the other '21st Century skills' that employers crave."

But his closing line, light-hearted as it is, really disappoints, because it exemplifies the wrong-headed thinking that permeates ed policy and engenders so many ridiculous ideas for revamping K-12 to make us "more competitive." He says:

So the next time that foreigners come to investigate what accounts for America's economic success, don't show them the extra-curriculars. They're our secret weapons; we might want to keep it that way!

To all you K-12 ambassadors out there, please don't listen to Mike. If China dispatches a special envoy to come study our schools, show them everything we've got. Contrary to what Mike and many much more irrational fear-mongerers out there suggest, we want foreign economies to thrive, because trade is not a zero-sum game; improving circumstances in one country benefit us all.

"N.J. raises bar for pupil test scores":

New Jersey made it harder yesterday for public school students to prove their proficiency on state exams--a change that could cause more schools to run afoul of the federal No Child Left Behind Act....

... with the changes, passing rates are likely to drop in a majority of tests, markedly in some cases, [Education Commissioner Lucille Davy] said.

In sixth grade, for example, state estimates show the language arts passing rate would have risen from 76 percent to 80 percent this year using the old cut scores, but instead will drop to 54 percent.

In an age when most states are wimping out on standards, one wonders how on earth the Board of Education mustered the will to do this. On the other hand, one wonders what, exactly, this means:

To provide districts some short-term protection against the predicted drop in passage rates, state officials plan to reduce the proficiency requirements considered by No Child--but set by the state.


After watching the interview with Michelle "The Hammer" Rhee (so named by her detractors for "hammering" away at the calcified system and "nailing" incompetent teachers), you may need a break. Why not play a board game from the Washington City Paper poking fun at how hard it really is to fire a DCPS teacher? Fun abounds, but don't get stuck on the "Teacher Files a Grievance" square!

Charlie Rose interviewed D.C. Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee last night. Not only does she provide an in depth look at D.C. education politics (and what she thinks is the most important way to improve education: recruiting and maintaining high quality teachers) but she even lays into our old friend, Randi Weingarten. Teaser:

I believe that one of the things we have to be cognizant of is believing in charter schools doesn't mean starting a charter school or two charter schools. If you truly believe in charter schools, then you believe in an open market system where charter schools can flourish. If [Randi Weingarten] really believed in charter schools, is she advocating for a lift of the cap of charter schools? I don't think so.

Take that, Randi!

Warning: the interview is worth watching through to its 54-minute completion.


This fall, the Minnesota Center of Online Learning (MCoOL) will expand its offerings to meet growing demand for high-tech, rigorous virtual education. MCoOL is a free Minnesota public school for grades 7-12 like any other, except for the fact that all classes are conducted online. In fact, it has been "recognized for its reputation as the school of choice for Advanced Placement courses, academic rigor, highly experienced teachers, and commitment to individualized attention to help each student succeed," reports the Wall Street Journal's MarketWatch.

There are many forms of alternative education, virtual classes being only one of them. Offering students other ways to learn is a great idea, but only when executed properly. A quick perusal of the MCoOL website reveals that this particular virtual institution seems well done. And since it offers both full time and part time classes, students can even stay at the traditional school they currently attend but take an AP course that is not offered there. For rural students and others whose schools do not have the resources to provide AP courses or interesting electives, online schools are a great alternative.

Don't try any monkey business, though, since MCoOL makes...

"1 in 4 California students--and 1 in 3 in Los Angeles--quit school," reports the Los Angeles Times.

This made me go hunting for other ways students in California can graduate from high school or receive a diploma equivalent. Interestingly, California has a number of options. Students can take their GED as early as age 17 (but only within 60 days of their 18th birthday), or they can take the California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE). The CHSPE can be taken as early as 16 or after completing sophomore year (regardless of age!) with parental permission to stop attending school. While the GED tests reading, writing, math, science, and social studies, the CHSPE only tests reading, writing, and math. The CHSPE also differs from the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), which all students take for the first time in 10th grade and is required for graduation. Passing the CAHSEE is not equivalent to a diploma and tests in English language arts and math. Students have at least six opportunities to pass the CAHSEE--one in grade 10, two in grade 11, and three in grade 12. If a student continuously fails the CAHSEE, the...

Regarding my article in this week's Gadfly, I'd like to clarify that my use of the word "disingenuous" was not meant to describe the moral character of the study's authors. I actually said that the co-author's suggestion that the study provided evidence of curriculum narrowing was disingenuous. Further, I was using the word to mean "not straightforward" rather than dishonest. Regardless, I goofed. It was clearly a poor word choice and we'll print a short correction in next week's Fly.

Since I've been at Fordham, I've actually enjoyed a little back and forth with Jay on the topic of special education. I look forward to continuing discussion with him on the things that I question. His moral character is not one of them....