In a post on Tuesday, I quarreled with Kevin Carey's argument, in The New Republic, that Republican lawmakers are wrong to embrace federalism when it comes to education--and that this marks a "radical" shift that's driven by fear of the Tea Party. Left unmentioned was his bizarre description of state GOP leaders' "war on teachers":

For years, teachers' unions have claimed that education reformers are mounting a ?war on teachers.? Now, in the Midwest and Republican-dominated states across the country, we are witnessing what a war on teachers really looks like. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's nuclear assault on public employees' collective bargaining and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's overheated claims that teacher pensions are bankrupting the state reveal a Republican Party bent on using its current electoral advantage to permanently cripple unions nationwide.

Maybe it's unfair to pick on Kevin; progressive reformers of all stripes have been saying similar things (especially about Wisconsin) ever since Governor Walker's collective bargaining bill gained national attention. But consider this: about half the states don't require that districts bargain collectively with their teachers, and five ban the practice outright (Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas). Wisconsin's (and Ohio's) laws...

Georgia is on the road to eliminating seniority-based layoffs throughout the state. The big news is that they're replacing it with a flexible, sensible option for performance evaluation to be determined by local school and district managers.

GA's Senate Bill 184 sets three basic policies. First, local school boards cannot use length of tenure as the "primary or sole determining factor" in deciding whom to lay off during reductions in force. Second, performance should be the primary determining factor in making these layoffs. The bill states clearly that "one measure of [teacher performance] may be student academic performance." That is, local districts are free to decide how much to weight to assign to test scores and the like, and for which teachers they're relevant. Third, the bill establishes a commission of teachers, ed school profs, school managers, and others to identify effective professional development opportunities by 2015 to help all teachers improve their craft. It looks likely that the governor will sign the bill into law.

Some teachers and union folks say we can't evaluate teachers until we have a universally-valid evaluation system. Some reformers cling to a magical 50% weight for student test scores (or...

Effective teachers are the most valuable education asset that Ohio (or any state) has. Statistics don't lie when it comes to their impact on children's learning. Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, who recently testified before a joint hearing of the Ohio House and Senate education committees, reports that "having a high-quality teacher throughout elementary school can substantially offset or even eliminate the disadvantage of low socio-economic background." Similarly, a weak teacher can blight a child's prospects.

Given how powerfully teachers can alter students' life trajectories, it is not only prudent but imperative to push reforms that enable education leaders to distinguish effective teachers from ineffective ones. With a fair and rigorous system that measures gradations of teacher effectiveness - not just binary ratings such as "satisfactory" and "unsatisfactory" - school systems can reward their ablest instructors and put them in the classrooms where they are most needed, target support to teachers who need it and weed out those who are not a good fit for the profession. For Ohio, where low-income and minority children reach proficiency at far lower rates than their wealthier peers, the stakes are enormous.

But the evaluation system isn't working nearly as well as it...

Today's Columbus Dispatch features an anti-Teach For America op-ed by an OSU ed professor (Thomas Stephens). He says nothing surprising to any of us who've heard ed schools' views of alternative teacher preparation before. And given that TFA-enabling legislation has already passed, his disparaging of the program is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. But his line of reasoning is one that drives me so far up the wall that I just can't help myself. Bear with me for a moment, and then I'll shut up about Teach For America and go back to my work.

Stephens begins his piece by making a ludicrous but quite common analogy between teaching and medicine:

Imagine that Gov. John Kasich and Ohio legislators take on a real problem: the difficulty Medicare patients have in finding physicians who will treat them. To fix it, they pass and Kasich signs the Ohio Medicare Fair Practice Act? This new law allows college graduates to obtain a special license to practice medicine following completion of a five-week course. These bright young people, full of energy and idealism, will practice only a few years before migrating to less-onerous and more-lucrative careers.

Think this is far-fetched?


?Good teaching cannot fall victim to budget cuts,? a post on Ed Week's ?PD Watch? blog implored last week.

This year many states will make dramatic cuts to their education budgets?I would urge that those budget cuts not come at the expense of improving teaching. Furloughing teachers on professional development days, or ridding school systems of professional development departments, instructional coaches, and other forms of support altogether, will erode the knowledge, skills, and abilities teachers need to meet students' learning needs, and, as a result, will have a dramatic negative impact on student achievement for years to come.

The post is grounded in the dubious (but all too common) assumption that less is inevitably worse. ?As if it's impossible to streamline spending in education?or, in this case, in professional development?without negatively impacting quality.


For starters, regardless of their quality, most professional development consultants are astronomically expensive. I can remember being *shocked* that a one-day training with unheard of (and untested) trainers who knew nothing of our schools and teachers, but who worked for a well known and well respected organization charged $20,000 for a one day training. That's more than $3,000 an hour...

One of the nation's leading education economists, Eric Hanushek has a must-read story in Education Next, just released today, ?Valuing Teachers: How much is a good teacher worth??? And if you don't have time to read the full story, at least see Eric's summary of it. He applies some basic economic analysis to the ?conventional wisdom that teachers are the most important ingredient in an effective school.??

And, in the process, he reminds us that it should also be conventional wisdom ?that teachers are the most important ingredient in an ineffective school.? Indeed, often lost in the national demonizing teacher debate is the simple fact that ?there are large differences in teacher quality, and these differences are felt in very tangible ways by students and by U.S. society.?

Hanushek analyzed the financial impact of differences in student achievement and then matched that up with the students' teachers. He says it's ?fairly straightforward set of calculations.? ?And, he concludes,

[T]he numbers are astounding.? A teacher at the 85th percentile can, in comparison to an average teacher, raise the present value of each student's lifetime earnings by over $20,000?implying that such a teacher with a class of 20


If you believe the two sides currently duking it out over collective bargaining in Wisconsin, Ohio, and other states, contracts with teacher unions are either the only thing saving American education from utter ruin or they're the greatest impediment to reforming the system. What's absent from the discussion is an examination of the role of school and district leadership, which has the power (largely unrealized, alas) to make labor agreements far less influential.

Last week, I attended a great panel at the Yale SOM Education Leadership Conference on teacher contracts, ably moderated by Andy Rotherham. Discussing the district's 2009 contract, New Haven Public Schools assistant superintendent Garth Harries placed a lot of blame for the restrictive nature of labor agreements on the poor state of education management, saying that teachers will routinely go above and beyond the requirements of their contract if they trust management. The AFT's Joan Devlin, speaking to a largely unsympathetic crowd, agreed, pointing out that a good working relationship between the New Haven local and district management allowed everyone to move from haggling over hours to talking about how to reform schools together. The entire panel agreed that bold, visionary leadership with integrity is rare...