Teachers

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is a new name in education circles, but not to me. Having lived in the state my whole life, I proudly supported him from the days his popular, ?One Tough Nerd,? ads started popping on TV in early 2010. In the August primaries he pulled a shocking upset and went on to win the general election by a landslide. But since taking office, his efforts to erase deficits through drastic budget cuts have left him a villainous figure to many Michiganders. These are many of the same people you hear decrying his new education plan. By introducing these reforms while trimming the state's K-12 education budget by 4%, Snyder is hoping to do more with less. Personally, I couldn't be more in favor of the breath of fresh air he's blowing into the Michigan education system, but there's a lot more at play.

Snyder's plans, while promising, will take time to enact; schools, on the other hand, must act on his budget restrictions immediately. In Michigan, a state where union membership is mandatory for public school teachers, archaic ?last hired ? first fired? policies are still controlling who gets laid off. By not addressing collective bargaining, Snyder's education cutbacks will end up dealing an unintended blow: the jobs of young teachers. I know this because it could have been me. When I joined Fordham last fall, I passed up an offer to teach civics and history at a public high school...

Unions are not to blame for the severity of public pension shortfalls, but that doesn't mean that taking a hard look at collective bargaining is a bad idea. Matthew Di Carlo at Shanker Blog called yesterday for pols and commentators to stop blaming the nation's public pension issues on collective bargaining. He has a point, but I can't run with his conclusions here:

I find little evidence that the unionization of public employees has any effect ? whether positive or negative ? on the fiscal soundness of state pension plans. This, along with the fact that we already know why pensions are in trouble, and it has little to do with unions, once again represents strong tentative evidence that the push to eliminate collective bargaining is misguided, and the blame on unions is misplaced. States with little or no union presence are, on average, in no better shape.

Pensions are far from the only issue at hand. The Pew report cited by Matthew shows that, in addition to the $660 billion gap in pension systems, there is a $604 billion shortfall to pay for generous health benefits for public-sector retirees. This gap has little to do with the financial crisis, because states didn't have much savings to lose in the markets to begin with.

The absolute level of health care liability per person ? not the gap, but the dollar amount states will have to shell out eventually ? seems to be related to unionization density....

I've already weighed in on Alfie Kohn's ?pedagogy of poverty? article that appeared in Ed Week last week. (See here.) The debate sparked by Kohn's article rages on?in blogs and on Twitter?and my colleague, Mike Petrilli, weighed in today, arguing:

The question of whether affluent and disadvantaged kids need a different kind of education?different instructional strategies, different curriculum, maybe even different kinds of teachers?is a serious one. This discussion is easily demagogued (particularly on Twitter). But it's not racist to say that poor kids?who generally come to school with much less vocabulary, exposure to print, and much else?might need something different?more intense, more structured?than their well-off, better-prepared peers.

On some level, we're overcomplicating this. In the end, the ?achievement gap,? as we now call it, is really little more than a practice gap. And schools that are succeeding in closing it are simply better at creating a culture that makes time for that practice.

In his bestselling book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that, across divergent fields (athletics, music, business, academia), the people who rose to the top had two things in common:

  1. They had been exposed to and given the opportunity to learn, and
  2. They had logged at least 10,000 hours of practice.

That's because extraordinary achievement is a function of extraordinary practice. Unfortunately, the sad truth for too many of America's poor children is that they are never given the opportunity to learn. ?And they are even more rarely given...

A few days ago Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari, founders, according to their official ID, of the 826 National tutoring centers and producers of the documentary ?American Teacher,? wrote an essay for the New York Times titled The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries. (We know that Eggers also happens to be author of the bestseller A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.)? Unfortunately, the headline doesn't do justice to their argument, which is that we have to ?make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates? by, among other things, better training and recruiting ? but the headline also highlights the problem with their analysis: they can't leave the ?low pay? shibboleth alone.

What is refreshing about Eggers and Calegari's approach is that it picks up on some of the more important findings of the recent McKinsey report (released last fall), which was also devoted to the question of attracting and retaining more ? and more better! ? teachers. ?Their summary of McKinsey's findings comparing the treatment of teachers in three high-performing countries ? Finland, Singapore, and South Korea ? ?and is, more or less, apt:

First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the profession. (We don't.) In Finland and Singapore they pay for training. (We don't.) In terms of purchasing power, South Korea pays teachers on average 250 percent of what we do. And most of all, they trust their teachers. They are rightly seen as the solution, not the problem, and when

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Liam Julian

Mopati Morake will graduate shortly from Williams College. He was born in Botswana but finished high school in Hong Kong. He has attended schools on three continents, and Justin Snider, writing for the Hechinger Report, thought that sort of wide experience might have given Morake a distinctive perspective on educational matters.

?What,? Snider asks Morake, ?do you see in U.S. education that is praiseworthy, and where does the U.S. system fall short?? The young man answers that the capability to explore different areas of knowledge, to enroll not only in required classes but in those classes that interest him, is an admirable facet of American higher education. He also likes that tests are not the sole focus; at his college, the process of learning also has weight. In his native country, Botswana, and in much of Asia, pupils are judged wholly by the scores they receive on several, major tests. Thus, ?It's pretty liberating,? he says, ?to come here and find that my future isn't going to be determined by a grade on a few exams.? Morake finds the inequality in American k-12 education, however, to be singularly distressing??a travesty,? he calls it?and thinks lessening that inequality should be ?a national priority.?

Perhaps most interesting are Morake's ideas about teaching (the young man plans to teach at a boarding school come fall). ?I think teaching is the second most important job, after parenting,? he says. He believes that such importance obliges respect. ?But if we value teaching...

Yesterday Gov. Kasich signed long-awaited legislation to enable Teach For America to have a home in the Buckeye State.?? Now that legislation is official ? and TFA can place teachers across all grades and subjects (the primary barrier for the last two decades) ? several important questions are cropping up. With which districts will TFA partner? How can it expect to place teachers as districts ? especially large urban ones like Cleveland that are likely TFA partners ? are laying off veterans? How can Ohio avoid headlines like this, and avoid tossing new corps members into a controversial thicket like what's happening in Kansas? (A friend emailed me right away to express excitement about the bill but as a traditionally trained teacher, this was her first question ? do you think TFAers should take jobs during layoffs? I had no good answer for her. I bet TFA will struggle with this one.)

Beyond the obvious questions about TFA's move onto Ohio soil, several other things stood out from the bill signing. First, despite wide-ranging support for the program, there's still a lot of opposition to the program and until teachers are working successfully in classrooms to bust some myths, I don't expect that to go away.? Second, it shouldn't be surprising but is interesting nonetheless how the governor took credit for bringing TFA here (he drew a direct line between mentioning TFA in his...

The Education Gadfly

Mike and Janie look into the crystal ball of edu-policy, making predictions on the sustainability of the local school board, potential backlash to reform, and the market's role in education. Amber blows holes in the teacher-quality-gap line of reasoning and Chris gets salty about pepper spray.

[powerpress]

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