Teachers

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.)

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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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Don't miss Katie Couric's 60 Minutes report this Sunday on a New York City charter school that pays teachers lots of money but gives them no tenure. ?What we're trying to do is build a school where every teacher is a great teacher,??The Equity Project?founding principal Keith Vanderhoek tells Couric. ?

It promises to be a good story. But I like the part where Couric says, with almost breathless bewilderment,?that $125,000 ?is a lot of money for a teacher in this country.??? Hah.? In New York City, as Katie should know,?that's practically homeless!

But stay tuned; rather, tune in, but don't drop out.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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There continues to be a lot of discussion around the idea of creating a ?common? curriculum to supplement the Common Core State Standards. Robert Pondiscio over at Core Knowledge applauds the move, arguing that, while the CCSS are ?praiseworthy,? they are ?not a curriculum?and are unlikely to amount to much?in the absence of a shared curriculum.? ?Tom Vander Ark cautions that moving to adopt a traditional curriculum is a mistake and that we should be thinking not about common curriculum, but rather about ?uncommon? delivery system that provides ?fully customized engaging learning sequences for every student.? (If you haven't already, it's also worth reading Pondiscio's scathing take-down of Vander Ark's idea.)

Unfortunately, I still think that these debates are missing the point, and potentially distracting states from allocating their now very scarce resources towards policies that have the potential to much more dramatically impact student achievement.

It's worth noting that, as a former curriculum director, I am a strong believer in the transformative power of curriculum. It is essential.

But, I sincerely believe that making curricular decisions at the state or?even worse?national level is a mistake. States would do better to create or adopt rigorous assessments and a strong state accountability system, and then to devolve ownership over student achievement results?and that includes curricular decisions?as closely as possible to the classroom.

Heading up the curriculum and professional development team at Achievement First, one of our early missteps was to focus on mandating?or...

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The New York Times is on a roll with its education coverage, today reporting on everything from Obama in Boston to Rick Scott in Florida and rich schools in Bronxville.? And though I got slapped on the wrist yesterday by John Thompson for tweaking the purveyor of ?the best journalism in the world,? it is precisely because they are the best (according to Thompson, of course) that we watch them ? and, occasionally, critique them.

Florida Moves Teacher Bill Forward. It looks like new Sunshine state governor Rick Scott will right the wrong of his predecessor Charlie Crist, who vetoed a pioneering teacher evaluation reform bill last year ? what Andy Smarick called ?the most disappointing education policy decision by a major Republican officeholder in recent memory.?? The revived and revised bill, introduced by Florida legislator Erik Fresen, would link teacher evaluations to student performance, put new teachers on one-year contracts, and institute an evaluation system that would determine raises and firings. ??We are under siege,? the head of one teacher union told the Times. Yup. And it may be time for besieged teacher unions to start thinking of the besieged students who can't read or write.

A Merger in Memphis.? Voters in Memphis decided by a large margin on Tuesday to hand over the reins of their ?103,000-student public school system to their smaller -- ?47,000 students ? suburban neighbor in Shelby County, ?effectively,? as the Times reports, ?putting an end to...

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