L.A. Teachers Face New Evaluations
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  • WigWag

    “The real goal for L.A. should be a decentralized system in which parents have more choice and teachers have more freedom. If the unions come around to this way of thinking, we may begin to see real improvement.” (Via Meadia)

    New York City experimented with school decentralization and community control in the 1960s and 1970s; it was a disaster. Test scores went down, graduation rates declined, criminal activity in schools went up and corruption went up as well.

    If Mayor Bloomberg is to be believed (personally I don’t believe him) educational standards in the New York City public schools did not begin to improve until school decentralization was abandoned and Mayoral control (which means more centralization) was instituted. School teachers in New York City have no more freedom now than they had before; the mandates now come from the Mayor’s “Education Czar” instead of a Community School Board. If Mayor Bloomberg is correct that schools in New York have improved as a result, then it is evidence that Mead’s thesis that better results will be obtained by giving parents greater choice and teachers greater freedom may not be correct.

    What actual data does Professor Mead have that school choice and teacher freedom produce better outcomes in urban environments than giving parents fewer choices and teachers less freedom? Is his thesis something that Professor Mead has actual evidence for or it something he just believes in the deep recesses of his heart as a matter of faith?

    While there is very little definitive evidence about anything when it comes to education, there are some things that we do know. For example, we know that kids in wealthy suburban public school systems do pretty well regardless of how the systems are organized and that children in poorer urban districts often do far worse than we would wish. The problem has proven to be intractable.

    My thesis is different from the Professor’s. I think that nothing works in urban districts because how the schools are organized and how much “freedom” teachers have are beside the point. I grudgingly suspect that Charles Murray got it right; the problem in the urban environment is a downwardly mobile middle and working class that are not equipping the consumers of education (their children) with the skills necessary to excel in school. If Murray is correct, increasing parental choice and decentralization represent little more than putting the lunatics in charge of the asylum.

    In a recent post, Professor Mead blamed both political parties for insuring that public school teachers are poorly paid. One of the reasons for this is that urban schools districts prefer younger inexperienced teachers who get paid less to older experienced teachers who are paid more. It is reasonable to speculate that the more experienced a teacher is, the better job s/he does. After all, it is axiomatic that a surgeon who has performed an operation 1,000 times is more likely to get the job done right than a surgeon who has performed the same operation twice. Most of us would rather have our cases tried by an attorney who has handled many cases that are similar to ours to an attorney who has never tried a case like ours. Presumably more experienced teachers usually do a better job but in the absence of data it’s hard to know for sure.

    But that’s not what urban school systems want; they prefer cheap and inexperienced teachers to the expensive and more experienced. In fact, urban school districts are so desperate to get rid of the more experienced teachers that they offer incredible pension deals to induce experienced teachers to retire early.

    Professor Mead frequently suggests that “greedy” teachers unions and slimy politicians conspire to ignore the ramifications of retirement plans. He’s half right; he’s got the part about the slimy politicians down pat. What he never mentions is that on many occasions school districts approach teachers unions with pension offers that are too good to refuse; the motivation of these school districts is to drive down current costs by inducing older, better paid teachers to retire so they can be replaced by younger, less expensive teachers.

    In New York City for example, since 2010 (the year Mayor Bloomberg began his third term) public school teachers can retire at age 55 as long as they have 25 years of teaching experience. Seems pretty generous; don’t you think?

    Maybe it is; but Professor Mead may be surprised to learn that the idea came from the man he lauded as a fiscal genius in an earlier post, Mayor Bloomberg. Just a week or so ago, Professor Mead was citing the New York City Mayor as warning ominously that pension trustees were prognosticating unrealistic rates of return. Is the Professor surprised to learn that the very mayor that he credited for his probity was the prime advocate for the expensive 2010 pension law that induced thousands of experienced school teachers to take an early retirement (previously they had to work to 62 to collect pension benefits)? Does Professor Mead believe that the man he was praising so recently, Michael Bloomberg, is a slimy politician? For more, see,

    http://www.nystrs.org/main/legislation/2010.htm

    If all of this surprises Via Meadia, it shouldn’t; like many urban school systems, the New York City system is far more concerned with current outlays than what they may have to pay later.

    I guess Mayor Bloomberg figures that he has nothing to worry about; when the whole thing eventually proves unaffordable, his successor will just get the public to pass a bill that reneges on the deal that the City made in the first place. It’s the classic bait and switch; it’s also probably unconstitutional. Both the Federal and most State Constitutions do have something to say about the sanctity of contracts.

    Like most of Professor Mead’s take on pensions, his take on what it will take to fix urban schools reeks of disingenuity.

  • chase

    If we want to improve education in America, we should look to countries that have the best results. Take a look at Singapore. When Singapore achieved independence, 40 percent of the country was illiterate. Now, Singaporean students lead the world in reading, science and math. They must be doing something right.

    These two news clips are worth your time.

    Also, check out the Khan academy. This website has tons of math lessons, ranging in difficulty from simple addition to post calculus. I am using it now, and it rocks. Maybe websites like this are the future of American education.

    http://www.khanacademy.org/

  • In a long, boring book on SBM (School based management), the last few lines read…

    Evidence of the impact of the EDUCO program in El Salvador using ME is presented in Sawada and Ragatz (2005). One major limitation of this study is the lack of baseline data. The authors found that SBM increased the amount of time that teachers could spend on teaching, and that in turn translated into a positive impact on test scores.

    In summary, six studies used DD and ME. Three of them presented evidence that SBM had a positive impact on test scores, and the majority of the studies presented evidence that SBM had a positive impact on reducing dropout, failure, and repetition rates.

    http://siteresources.worldbank.org/EDUCATION/Resources/278200-1099079877269/547664-1099079934475/547667-1145313948551/Decentralized_decision_making_schools.pdf

    Common sense indicates that an independent school will be better at meeting needs than an district school, particularly if the parents are given options.

    More..

    http://econ2.econ.iastate.edu/faculty/orazem/School%20Autonomy%20final.pdf

    You can also look to Sweden and New Zealand. NZ’s experience has been blunted by backtracking and bureaucratic recapture over the decades, but in the mid 80, they had a remarkable positive experience in outcomes (slightly better) and a lower cost (cutting central bureaucracy).

    Lastly, one word…Katrina
    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2017386389_guest01pastorek.html

    ___

    Your point about the rich v. poor is obvious, but hardly an argument against gutting needless bureaucracy. Katrina aftermath provides a very good model.

    Many more options, allow the S$$ to follow the child, gut the central spending, and support the more rapid creation of the best options.

    Assuming political will and the superior morality of funding children, we should be able to skip the hurricane.

    WRM didn’t post piles of data. He shouldn’t have to.

  • thibaud

    #1 Wigwag, as usual, nails it:

    “nothing works in urban districts because how the schools are organized and how much “freedom” teachers have are beside the point.

    “I grudgingly suspect that Charles Murray got it right; the problem in the urban environment is a downwardly mobile middle and working class that are not equipping the consumers of education (their children) with the skills necessary to excel in school. If Murray is correct, increasing parental choice and decentralization represent little more than putting the lunatics in charge of the asylum.”

    Murray is almost certainly correct. Our big problems are cultural in nature, nowhere more so than in primary and secondary education.

  • thibaud

    Looks like the interns are deleting posts now.

    In support of the argument that increasing choice and teacher flexibility will have little to no effect on LA school performance, I posted a link to the LA Unified subset of the Calif STAR Test Scores database, sortable by district/school, ethnicity, “economic disadvantage” etc.

    It shows that the elephant in the room is the imported underclass that now constitutes over SEVENTY PERCENT of LA Unified’s student population.

    This underclass racks up a failing/failure rate of about 50% in the earliest grades for both math and language arts, nearly 70% in upper grades for language arts, and over nearly 100% for HS students in math.

    Stop blaming the teachers and the administrators. The problems here are cultural and demographic.

    If you want to turn around the CA schools, then by far the most important thing to do is to stop importing an underclass of semiliterate or illiterate families that do not care about educational achievement.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: “If Murray is correct, increasing parental choice and decentralization represent little more than putting the lunatics in charge of the asylum.”

    Except that for the most part, they are not lunatic, but rather either lazy or incompetent (since we are being pejorative). Our alternatives are (i) increase parental responsibility, incentivizing them to improve in a sink-or-swim way, (ii) staying the course, which is clearly highly unsatisfactory, or (iii) going whole-hog paternalistic and turning children into practical wards of the state.

    I can understand the attraction of the third option (and revulsion from the first), but the first seems to me a significantly more viable option.

  • chase

    One should be skeptical about the education reform movement. Vouchers aren’t the panacea that conservatives make them out to be. And you are right to say the culture is probably the most important variable when it comes to educational achievement.

    That said, experimentation is a good thing, and it is possible that changes in our educational system could yield better results.

    For example, the Khan academy is probably the best resource for American math students that has ever been created. After it gets translated into other languages, it could educate the whole world, and I’m not exaggerating. If I had this when I was in high school, my math grades would have been higher.

    In California, some school districts are now incorporating Khan’s math lessons into their schools. The students watch the lectures at home and do the practice problems – i.e., what used to be the homework – in class with the teacher. The have, in a sense, flipped the educational experience. Because the teacher doesn’t have to waste time delivering the lecture, s/he can spend time working with the students on problems they are having difficulty with.

    And because students can watch the videos as many times as they want to, students who are struggling can keep reviewing the lectures until the material sinks in.

    It would be great if Professor Mead would post about The Khan Academy. It would fit in well with his general perspective on educational reform.

  • WigWag

    “Common sense indicates that an independent school will be better at meeting needs than a district school, particularly if the parents are given options.” (Bruno Behrend)

    That’s not what common sense indicates at all. What do you suppose parental control will mean if we’re talking about a group of Muslim parents in New Jersey or Michigan who want the school their children attend to resemble as closely as possible the madrasahs they remember when they were growing up in Pakistan or Egypt? Suppose the parents are ultra orthodox Jews from Williamsburg Brooklyn or Kiryas Joel in Orange County, New York; what do you suppose they would do if they controlled the local school?

    Would kids in inner city Chicago get a better a better education if their local school was governed by parents belonging to the Nation of Islam? Even if religious education was absent from the public school what do you suppose these kids would learn about American history? What would the learn about European history? What would they learn about the history of the Holocaust ( assuming they learned anything about it at all)?

    How many local schools in African American areas would jump at the chance to teach “black English?”. What about schools in inner city Los Angeles; would kids in those schools be better off if the parents voted to increase bilingual instruction or eliminate instruction in English in favor of instruction in Spanish altogether?

    What about a school where parents vote to eliminate all reference to Darwin or to evolution; would kids in that school be better off? Will they be positioned to compete in the high tech world of the 21st century?

    None of this is impossible to contemplate; surely thousands of African American parents would be delighted to have their kids instructed in black English. Surely tens if not hundreds of thousands of Latino parents would think it’s just fine if their children were instructed in Spanish. We already know that millions of ignorant American parents are horrified of the prospect that their children are taught about evolution.

    Will be better off as Americans if parents have the right to insist that their kids be taught in school that the American southwest really belongs to Mexico? Will our country be better off if kids learn in their high school history classes the “God-damn America view of history postulated by Reverend Wright?

    School choice solves nothing. While it might allow some kids to escape the idiocy that characterizes so much of American culture today, what about the kids who are left behind? What about kids who have ignorant parents who believe this garbage; at one point school was there only sanctuary from this malarkey, where will they go? Should kids be made to suffer for the abject stupidity of their parents?

    If inner city children were as prepared for school as their suburban counterparts, inner city schools would be doing far better than they are. Parents may be to blame for some of the inadequacies that inner city school children have ( as Charles Murray suggests) and a great deal of the problems may be beyond their control. But at the very least it should be apparent that taking parents who are barely meeting their parental responsibilities and giving them more input into the schools their children go to is a recipe for even less educational success than we have now.

    Via Media is looking for solutions in all the wrong places; the real culprit is not teachers, greedy teachers unions or even slimy politicians; the problem is bad parenting. Professor Mead is to politically correct to have the guts to place the blame for the problem where it really lies. Many if not most of the advocates for decentralization and “freedom” for teachers are far more interested in grinding their anti government political ax than they are in improving outcomes for inner city youth.

    Same as it ever was.

  • WigWag and Thibaud may “nail” the cultural issue, but they miss the entire point regarding transforming schools.

    While the social entropy of various regions and ethnic groups is arguably more important than tweaking school systems, the fact is that schools once played an important role in grounding communities.

    The 70-90 year battle to “centralize” education has severely damaged this role, and the degradation accelerated from the mid 60s onward.

    Therefore, merely prattling on about how “Charles Murray is right” without devising ways to halt or reverse the social entropy in these areas doesn’t help much.

    This is made even more evident as the so-called quality of suburban schools declines relative to the surging demand for quality students that is being met across the globe.

    WigWag and Thibaud can tout Murray all they want. It is still important that we dramatically transform education so that the money follows the child to a wider array of options.

    This will provide a much stronger base of support for shifting the axis in the culturally challenged areas. Defending the status quo while lamenting the cultural problems doesn’t “nail” anything save the poor souls stuck in a morally indefensible education Cartel.

  • Thibaud says: “School choice solves nothing. While it might allow some kids to escape the idiocy that characterizes so much of American culture today, what about the kids who are left behind?

    Allowing “some kids to escape the idiocy” solves the problem for them.

    I’m forced to digress and remind readers of the “Starfish” parable of the man who walks the beaches throwing a few (out of 1000s) starfish washed ashore back into the ocean. “Why bother?” asks a passerby, “you can never hope to save all of them so it really doesn’t matter.”

    “It matters to this one,” replies the man, as he throws another back into the sea.

    Even reasonable and measured center-lefties like Thibaud and WigWag can’t seem to grasp that we are a culture of 310+ million individuals. If Randi Weingarten, Barack Obama, and 3.1 million needless administrators can’t solve education, why, it’s impossible. Better to deport the underclass or give them up for lost.

    This is the weakest link in the arguments of the defenders of the status quo. Better that all fail than to allow some to succeed. Of course, vastly understating the number who will have access to a better education.

    Better that ALL parents having bad options than some parents have good ones.

    Another canard is that people who advocate vouchers see them as a “panacea.”

    This is nonsense. There is no system where some don’t fall through the cracks. The best solution is to minimize the probability.

    Given that the poor and disadvantaged are forced to attend public Madrassas that preach despair, lack of standards, and self-reinforcing failure, I’m not going to fault a parent who wants to find a Catholic or a Muslim school. What’s wrong with a little REAL diversity (instead of the thin gruel of public ed ‘group think’)?

    WigWag and Thibaud would like to believe that we can force or enforce some type of Finnish system in a diverse nation of 310 million.

    Thibaud argues that this is merely a function of curtailing immigration. This is a pipe dream, not to mention somewhat immoral.

    Yes, the culture of the community matters. No one disputes that. None of that changes the fact that their arguments against choice, and defense of the existing system are exceedingly weak.

  • thibaud

    Bruno ” Thibaud argues that this is merely a function of curtailing immigration. This is a pipe dream, not to mention somewhat immoral.”

    Why the weasel words? What does “somewhat immoral” mean, anyway?

    You really should spend some with the data – and also get a qualitative feel for the problem by talking to some real teachers in California.

    California schools’ slide from #1 to #49 in the nation over three decades has next to nothing to do with teacher quality, or curriculum, or funding. Despite the foodfight between left and right (Prop 13!! Evil Teachers union!!), in reality, there has not been any significant change in teacher quality or funding or methodology over the last few decades.

    The big driver of performance is obviously demographics, ie the culture of the home.

    We can deny this all we like, but we in California are inexorably moving toward a latin-style oligarchy, with a thin sliver of world-competitive overachievers and a third- world absolute majority that’s incapable of even basic skills.

    “Reform” is beside the point. We’re now left with trying to avoid sliding further toward Brazil.

  • thibaud

    Wig: “Via Media is looking for solutions in all the wrong places; the real culprit is not teachers, greedy teachers unions or even slimy politicians; the problem is bad parenting.”

    Ouch. Truth hurts.

    But in the long run, it’s a lot more painful to deny the truth and to keep pursuing panaceas like “choice” and “decentralization” and the deus ex technologia, be it digital or other technologies.

    Our problems are cultural in nature, and only a deep and broad change in the culture will solve them.

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