Teachers

Randi Weingarten is talented at making crazy ideas sound sensible. Today she claims in a Huffington Post op-ed that "you can't make a thorough and objective decision about a teacher's qualifications without a valid evaluation system." (That is, a national one endorsed by the AFT.) She supports this assertion with a vague reference to school administrators' "arbitrary and subjective judgment."

Of course, in the rest of the professional world managers strive to make thorough and objective decisions about their workers without a universal evaluation system. Marketers, engineers, and event planners do not need national "frameworks" and "continuous improvement models" in order to be evaluated by their managers (much less to be fired for malfeasance). It doesn't work perfectly, but it works. Why, in Weingarten's eyes, are teachers so different?

Her op-ed employs the clever trick of arguing that common ground is not that far away, if only those stubborn reformers would be willing to give up and agree with the unions. I'd call that a tautology ? if you'd only agree with my position, we wouldn't be fighting!

This is nearly as insidious as Rick Hess's favorite "it's for the kids" line. Weingarten lays out a fundamental difference between the AFT and reformers like Joel Klein, then papers over it with a call for collaboration that looks strikingly like the "highly effective until proven otherwise" status quo in teacher evaluation. There's nothing transformative about that.

? Chris Tessone...

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Last week I showed that, by one measure at least, teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers?$64,500 on average versus $57,500. These numbers are for teachers with just bachelor's degrees who have reached the last step on the salary schedule.

Matt Di Carlo of the Shanker Institute responded in the comments section with an important analysis of his own:

Mike,

Why are you using the maximum BA salary as a measure of what teachers ?actually earn?? ?It would seem to me that this is the least appropriate choice for two reasons. First, unlike the starting and fifth year salaries available in the TQ3 database, the maximum salary doesn't ?control? for experience?the schedules vary as to how many years it takes to get to the top. Second, and more importantly, most career teachers (i.e., those who might get to the top of their schedules) get a master's degree (and are required to do so in some states), so very few teachers are actually located at the top BA step. It's probably the least appropriate choice as a measure of what the typical teacher earns.

I quickly replicated your analysis. My figures for the maximum BA salary are slightly different from yours, but close enough for the purposes of a comment.

Starting BA -- Non-CB: $41,314; CB: $38,696

BA 5th year -- ?Non-CB: $43,630; CB: $43,640

Maximum BA -- Non-CB: $63,731; CB: 57,628

Starting MA -- Non-CB: $43,960;

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Young teachers turned around a poorly-performing elementary school in Oakland, and now they're all at risk of being fired in a LIFO (seniority-based) layoff mandated by state law:

Futures, previously known as Lockwood Elementary, was redesigned in 2007 and a particularly young staff was hired to change the school's old reputation as a place that held low expectations for its low-income and minority students.

The state education code holds no provisions for performance, though. Instead, it dictates that layoffs must be made in order of seniority. Most Futures teachers have been in the classroom for fewer than five years.

?What did we do the redesign for?? asked the school's principal, Steven Daubenspeck.

The union president blames the school's principal. She implies that all teachers are interchangeable widgets, so he should have kept the school's low-performing senior teachers instead of trying to turn the school around using new blood:

The president of the Oakland teachers' union, Betty Olson-Jones, said she feels for the teachers of Futures Elementary and that she plans to visit the school. However, she said, small school leaders ? like those at Futures ? that hired young teachers over older ones when they were redesigned are causing part of the problem. ?When [the division into small schools] happened, many of the teachers who were there and who wanted to be there and were veteran teachers were not invited back,? she said. ?And so, from 2001 through 2008, you saw a lot of veteran teachers

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One of the most striking arguments made against Republican governors' efforts to curtail the bargaining rights of teachers is that it's an "attack on the middle class." I'm more sympathetic to that line of reasoning than you might think; for all their evils, unions have been successful in giving millions of people a path to prosperity. And, as I was reminded at my grandmother's (a.k.a. "Nonnie's") funeral this past weekend, many of my second and third-generation Italian-American family members benefited from employment in public-sector, union-protected jobs. [quote]

But is it true, for teachers at least, that unions are necessary to ensure good wages? That when collective bargaining is disallowed, teacher pay plummets? I was curious, so I dug into data collected by the National Council on Teacher Quality. The group collects information on teacher pay, benefits, and much more in its tr3 database for more than 100 of the largest districts from each of the 50 states. I broke out the districts in non-collective bargaining states (those where the practice is illegal--namely, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia)--and compared them to the rest. And I looked at the maximum salary a teacher with a bachelor's degree could earn. (See the data here.)

The surprising finding? Teachers in non-collective bargaining districts actually earn more than their union-protected peers--$64,500 on average versus $57,500. (See the chart below.)

Click to view larger

To be...

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So, I watched Katie Couric's 60 Minutes segment about The Equity Project (TEP) charter in New York City. It was all wine and roses school reform, with 34-year-old principal Keith Vanderhoek walking and talking with the swagger of a man who knows what he's doing:? he pays teachers $125,000 -- yes, a great wage --?by cutting costs elsewhere (the school is housed in trailers), having no tenure ? the teachers don't even get a contract ? and by laying off?teachers?when they aren't performing.? So, it was somewhat sad, at the end, when Couric says,

But is the model working? When the fifth graders took the New York State math and reading exams, the results were disappointing. On average, other schools in the district scored better than TEP.? Some people watching this might be thinking, "Hey, they're paying teachers $125,000 a year. They've attracted the best and the brightest. These results don't really add up."

The camera cut back to Vanderhoek and to my eyes I saw the previously self-assured and articulate young man look as if the blood had drained from his face. I thought I saw sweat.?

"We don't have a magic wand,? he said,?a bit?defensively. ?We're not gonna take kids who are scoring below grade level and bring them up in a year."?

Part of the shock here, of course, was that the piece had seemed so sympathetic to what TEP was trying to do -- even the teacher who was dismissed said...

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Much ink has been spilled in the past week over what the pay for performance experiment in New York City's public school system means. Roland Fryer's finding that the NYC pay scheme didn't improve student achievement does not imply that differentiated pay for teachers doesn't work, however. In fact, I'm inclined to borrow a phrase from Chesterton: merit pay has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried at all.

Merit pay trials in the US have mostly followed a familiar pattern: they're structured as one-time bonuses and are tied to some kind of objective measure like test scores or teacher value-added. This may look superficially similar to professionals' compensation on Wall Street and in the nation's top law firms, but crucial components are missing that make up true merit pay in the professional working world.

Permanent raises based on merit provide a more meaningful incentive than annual bonuses, though the latter are a helpful supplement. Performance-based raises tell professionals that they're hitting milestones on the way to full professional effectiveness (or not), and they communicate the worker's long-term value to an organization. One-time bonuses that sit on top of a never-changing salary schedule that undervalues newer employees' growth are bound to be ineffective by comparison.

Management needs discretion to use both objective and subjective measures of effectiveness to evaluate merit. This is a scary idea for many teachers, but it's a pro-teacher idea at its core. Every teacher...

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I don't always agree with Marc Tucker but he knows a heckuva lot about how other countries organize their education systems; and it turns out that knowledge extends to how their teacher unions have evolved, what roles the unions play, and how their bargaining processes work. The differences set forth in his exceptionally interesting new paper?between the U.S. and northern Europe are enlightening, even provocative. And he's got at least 3/4 of an important point when he describes the need to reform U.S.-style collective bargaining without alienating all the teachers at a time when we need their cooperation in sundry education reforms. You can find his paper here.

?Chester E. Finn, Jr.

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I almost didn't get past the second sentence of Nicholas Kristof's brilliant NY Times essay this morning, as he opened with mention of Wisconsin and the ?pernicious fallacy? he?said the fracas there had generated: that teachers are over-paid. ?I didn't know that was the takeaway, but it's a worthwhile deception if it tempts education traditionalists to read this gem of a story.?

Kristof doesn't tread new ground here, but he dexterously handles three important issues at the heart of the teacher problem:? the talent gap, the salary gap, and the union practices which exacerbate the two.? And admitting that he's a ?novice? on education issues, the?veteran columnist?also has a refreshingly perceptive sidebar blog post in which he explains the origins of his new curiosity about the subject:

My interest in education arises from its role as a long-term driver of economic competitiveness and its role as an effective tool to chip away at poverty. In general, anti-poverty programs in America haven't been enormously effective, and increasingly I've come to believe that education (early childhood, k-12 and tertiary) is among the tools that really can work. The best study of this is ?Race Between Education and Technology,? by two Harvard economists, Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz ? a dense but hugely important book.

Thanks to clear-headed writers like Kristof, we'll get to a good education place faster.? Playing off the McKinsey report on ?Closing the Talent Gap,?? he describes?the profound disruption in the profession caused...

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