This is an exciting time for those of us who are strange enough to find research on teacher performance pay exciting. It is also, most likely, an anxious time for those with unyielding faith in its effectiveness. From all the chatter on performance incentives, and all the money we are putting into encouraging them, one might think they are a sure bet to work. But there's actually very little good evidence on their effects in the U.S. As with a lot of education policy in fashion today, investing in performance pay is a leap of faith.
The idea that we should "fire bad teachers" has become the mantra of the day, as though anyone was seriously arguing that bad teachers should be kept. No one is. Instead, the real issue is, and has always been, identification.
Those of us who follow the literature about value-added models (VAM) - the statistical models designed to isolate the unique effect of teachers on their students' test scores - hear a lot about their imprecision. But anyone listening to the public discourse on these methods, or, more frighteningly, making decisions on how to use them, might be completely unaware of the magnitude of that error.
In a July 21 New York Times cover story, reporter Tamar Lewin rightfully noted "the surprise of many in education circles..." that 27 states had already committed to adopting the new Common Core academic standards developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.
Lewin goes on to attribute this surprise to "states' long tradition of insisting on retaining local control over curriculum" (emphasis added). With this simple statement - the equating of standards with curriculum - the author perpetuates an egregious error in the understanding of education policy. Though the politics of local control touches both standards and curriculum, educators and the public will never get policy right as long as too many conflate the two.
Given our extreme reliance on test scores as measures of educational success and failure, I'm sorry I have to make this point: proficiency rates are not test scores, and changes in proficiency rates do not necessarily tell us much about changes in test scores.
Yet, for example, in the Washington Post editorial about the latest test results from the District of Columbia Public Schools, at no fewer than seven different points (in a 450 word piece) do they refer to proficiency rates (and changes in these rates) as "scores." This is only one example of many.
So, what's the problem?
The New York Times apparently thinks that outsourcing all city services in times of financial stress is such a great innovation that it merits page one treatment. The case in point: Maywood, Calif., where city officials last month fired every city employee and outsourced their work. According to the Times, many Maywood residents seem delighted, hence the headline: "A City Outsources Everything. Sky Doesn’t Fall."
The article describes Maywood as city that was abysmally managed for so long - its police department was especially singled out as a source of financial, legal, and political problems - that city officials claimed it faced bankruptcy unless drastic measures were taken. After reading the article, the first solution that came to my mind was to fire the city council that was responsible for the mess. But, of course, council members did not choose to fire themselves. Instead, after Maywood lost its liability insurance on June 30, city officials abruptly fired all city employees.
When asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, convicted bank robber Willie Sutton famously replied, "because that’s where the money is." While Sutton later denied making the remark, it was such a fabulously duh response to a dumb question that the medical profession later adopted "Sutton's Law" to describe the principle of "going straight to the most likely diagnosis."
So, what has this got to do with China? Well, in a recent Financial Times article, we learn that the All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU), fresh from its disastrous showing at the Honda strike (where its minions were videotaped beating up striking ACFTU members), has turned its attention to foreign-owned investment banks.
In this post, I argue that it is important to understand why a few charters (like KIPP) perform better than others. An editorial in today's Washington Post points out that KIPP’s results suggest the achievement-improving potential of more school time for lower-income students – i.e., longer days and years.
Through longer days, mandatory Saturdays, and summer school, KIPP students spend about 60 percent more time in school than typical regular public school students. That's the equivalent of over 100 regular public school days of additional time. This is an astounding difference.
But it's not just KIPP.
Can “doing the right thing” sell as well as “Just Do It”?
That’s the premise of a recent New York Times story, which describes the Knights Apparel company’s efforts to pay a living wage to unionized workers at a model factory in the Dominican Republic (hat tip to Jeff Ballinger). Knight’s Alta Gracia factory will pay factory workers $2.83 an hour to make college-label clothing for the U.S. market. This is enough to support a Dominican family of four, and nearly three and a half times the prevailing minimum wage paid by other factories making products bound for the U.S.
The following quote comes from the Obama Administration’s education "blueprint," which is its plan for reauthorizing ESEA, placing a heavy emphasis, among many other things, on overhauling teacher human capital policies:
Of all the work that occurs at every level of our education system, the interaction between teacher and student is the primary determinant of student success.Specific wordings vary, but if you follow education even casually, you hear some version of this argument with incredible frequency. In fact, most Americans are hearing it – I’d be surprised if many days pass when some approximation of it isn’t made in a newspaper, magazine, or high-traffic blog. It is the shorthand justification – the talking point, if you will – for the current efforts to base teachers’ hiring, firing, evaluation, and compensation on students’ test scores and other "performance” measures.
China's workers burst into the world headlines again recently (see here, here, here, and here, for example)—taking to the streets to protest wages and working conditions, and exciting speculation about the possible political, social, and economic implications. Strikes and protests by Chinese workers are increasingly common. The Economist, citing an official Chinese publication, reported that "labor disputes in Guangdong in the first quarter of 2009 had risen by nearly 42 percent over the same period in 2008...." (These are government numbers, so the real numbers are likely to be even higher.)