Teachers

In his most recent missive (published today in Ed Week), Alfie Kohn decries "the pedagogy of poverty," i.e.: the way many poor children are taught in traditional public and public charter schools around the nation. He complains:

Policymakers and the general public have paid much less attention to what happens inside classrooms—the particulars of teaching and learning—especially in low-income neighborhoods. The news here has been discouraging for quite some time, but, in a painfully ironic twist, things seem to be getting worse as a direct result of the “reform” strategies pursued by the Bush administration, then intensified under President Barack Obama, and cheered by corporate executives and journalists.

In an article published in Phi Delta Kappan back in 1991, Martin Haberman, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, coined the phrase “pedagogy of poverty.” Based on his observations in thousands of urban classrooms, Haberman described a tightly controlled routine in which teachers dispense, and then test students on, factual information; assign seatwork; and punish noncompliance. It is a regimen, he said, “in which learners can ‘succeed’ without becoming either involved or thoughtful,” and it is noticeably different from the questioning, discovering, arguing, and collaborating that is more common (though by no means universal) among students in suburban and private schools.

This description is misleading on so many levels. First of all, it seems to suggest that having tight classroom management and routines is antithetical to creating classrooms where students can think deeply about issues. Nonsense....

Ohio's recently passed SB5 would make Ohio the first state in the country to mandate performance pay for educators. The law wipes out the step-and-lane salary schedule that has been the basis of teacher pay since the early part of the 20th century and requires districts to adopt new merit-based pay systems. This is potentially a very big deal but the law will likely be challenged by a referendum in November and the courts will surely be drawn into this as school districts attempt to implement the changes. It will likely be months if not years before the law will actually change how teachers are remunerated in the Buckeye State.

It is interesting to go back in time and see how the current step-and-lane system emerged. My friend and long-time Daytonian Nancy Diggs wrote a book in 1997 on the life of Evangeline Lindsley called My Century: An Outspoken Memoir. Lindsley was one of Dayton's truly outstanding 20th century educators and was recognized as one of city's Ten Top Women in 1981. Lindsley also served as president of the Classroom Teachers Association in Dayton, and was elected as only the second member of the Executive Committee of the Ohio Education Association in the 1930s. She lived to be over 100.

In My Century Lindsley shared how the single-salary schedule came to be in Dayton during the Great Depression:

It was in the early ???30s that I found out that there was quite a difference in

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If you make an infographic colorful enough and confusing enough, people won't pay attention to how absurd your methodology is. That seems to be the theory motivating this chart, posted by Alexander Russo and originally developed by the futurejournalismproject:

A few objections. First, it simply can't be the case that teachers in the UK only work 15.6 weeks a year, which is what the chart implies (~625 hours / 40 hours). In fact, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, a teacher union there, claims British educators are overworked and average 50 hour weeks much of the year. There's clearly a fundamental problem with the underlying data for hours worked ? one of Russo's commenters suggests contact hours, not work hours, are being measured.

Second, salary divided by GDP per capita is not a useful measure of how well a profession is compensated, because it suggests teachers in the US deserve the same fixed share of economic output that teachers in other countries command. In doing so, the chart compares apples to oranges ? Korea's teachers are drawn from the top 5% of their class in high school and go through highly selective programs (the same story prevails in Finland). Korea also has a student-teacher ratio of 30:1 and math teachers making $4M a year in virtual education:

South Korea is able to pay teachers high starting salaries because it employs relatively fewer than

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Richard Whitmire worries that Republican governors are pushing too far too fast on school reform?and that a big backlash is coming?or might already be here.

My sense is that the school reform movement?roughly defined as those who believe that schools alone can make a dent in the seemingly intractable problems arising from the confluence of race and poverty?is headed into a major beat down.

Why the pessimism? I'm watching Ohio Gov. John Kasich make one of the most boneheaded moves I can imagine, trying to solve his budget problem by trimming back union collective bargaining while simultaneously imposing school reforms such as ushering in better teacher evaluations.

Does he really think teachers horrified at a peel-back of their collective bargaining are going to embrace a new teacher evaluation system? A similar package of twinned reforms is working its way through the Tennessee legislature. In Ohio, teacher union officials vow to place the governor's reforms on the November ballot, putting both budget and education reforms at risk.

Set aside for a moment Whitmire's, well, boneheaded analysis on the policy merits of Kasich's reform plans. (What's the point of introducing a rigorous teacher-evaluation system if poorly performing teachers can never be fired, thanks to provisions in collective-bargaining agreements? And does Whitmire really believe that teachers in Ohio were going to ?embrace? tougher evaluations were it not for Senate Bill 5? Clearly Whitmire hasn't done much of the ?on the ground? reporting he likes to promote?in Ohio at...

In science, statisticians must frequently grapple with interaction effects. Let's say, for example, that a scientist wants to study the impact of diet and exercise on lowering cholesterol. They have one group follow a low-fat diet, another a new running regimen, and a third group both. It's possible that both the diet group and the exercise group see a modest dip in cholesterol. But it's also possible that the third group will see a drop that is more than double what could have been achieved by diet or exercise alone?meaning that diet and exercise are ?interacting? in some way to affect cholesterol more powerfully. But, at what levels do participants see this interaction effect? When you follow a strict diet and exercise once a week? Twice? Etc.

In education, interaction effects are everywhere. As I've argued before, a strong curriculum implemented by skilled instructor often yields amazing results. The same curriculum implemented by a weak teacher may yield no (or negative) student achievement gains. That's because, as anyone who's ever worked in a school knows, outstanding student achievement results are the product of many different interacting elements within schools, not just of standards or curriculum alone.

For policy makers, it's challenging because no policy can control all of the (school-based) factors that will determine whether their programs succeed or fail in boosting student achievement.

So it is with Common Core. While the standards themselves are far more rigorous than what existed in most states previously,...

Esther Quintero, a research associate at the Albert Shanker Institute, blogs today that focusing on teacher quality and accountability is un-American, because it "views students exclusively as passive recipients of their own learning." She goes on to criticize school reformers for portraying students as "devoid of agency."

That's a false dichotomy. Reformers believe that good teachers are capable of transforming the lives of their students, leveling the playing field for poor kids and providing every child with the opportunity to live up to their full potential. But it's not that home life and background play no role ? it's that hard work by students doesn't amount to much without good teaching. The a priori assumption that all under-performing students must be duds is offensive.

I don't say this abstractly. I come from a working class family living in an economically-depressed rural area in the middle of the country. Three generations of my family worked as coal miners, sheet metal workers, and firefighters after coming to the US from Italy (which my grandparents still called "the Old Country" when I was a kid). My brother and I succeeded and found middle-class careers in small part because of our hard work ? but in larger part because of the hard work of teachers who didn't believe our free/reduced lunch status determined our ability to learn.

Why do people like Dr. Quintero, who profess to be pro-teacher, argue that teachers are irrelevant or interchangeable? Why do they fight so...

This article originally appeared in the April 21 edition of The Education Gadfly newsletter. You can sign up for The Education Gadfly or read an overview of the latest newsletter.

Along with paralysis over the budget (and so much else), there's enduring paralysis on Capitol Hill?over federal education policy. While 2011 has brought a flurry of promising reform activity at the state level, we detect barely a heartbeat in Washington when it comes to updating the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, currently NCLB), even though an overhaul is at least four years overdue and just about everyone agrees that it's not working very well.

A year ago, the Obama Administration offered a decent ?blueprint? for reauthorization; but in Congress there are major fissures within each party?and little evidence of desire to cooperate across the aisle. Most commentators agree?and staffers privately admit?that chances are slim for an update before the 2012 elections. Sadly, they are probably right. It's a major abdication of responsibility by our nation's lawmakers.

Click to read our ESEA briefing book

And what makes it especially painful is that there's a pretty obvious path forward, not too different from the Administration's proposal. We sketch it out in a new ESEA reform proposal released this week. It capitalizes on some key realities:

First, NCLB has done a pretty good job of sensitizing the country to the...

Ohioans are waiting to see if Senate Bill 5, which would greatly reduce public sector collective bargaining in Ohio, can be repealed at the ballot box in November. Meanwhile, teachers unions and local school districts are working fast to avoid the legislation's consequences, at least anytime soon.

Changes to state law cannot trump existing collective bargaining agreements. So until a teacher union contract expires, teachers and districts won't have to comply with the bill's provisions. Those include (among other things): prohibiting strikes; removing decisions about leave policies, class sizes, and employee assignment from the scope of collective bargaining; prohibiting salaries from increasing solely due to time on the job; removing seniority as the prime determinant of layoffs; allowing districts to pay no more than 85 percent of employees' health care premiums; and prohibiting districts from paying any portion of employees' pension contribution.

We've seen a rash of one- or two-year contracts agreed to recently as a result of SB 5, including in Columbus, the state's largest district. A few locals have negotiated longer agreements, like Bexley, outside Columbus, where teachers and the district agreed to a four-year contract in quick fashion (a single day!). That agreement ends in July 2015, by which time Ohioans may well have ousted the current governor and Republican House majority and replaced them with Democrats who will have overturned the work of the previous administration.

What's missing from many of these agreements are attempts to deal with...

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