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  • Failure To Communicate

    by Burnie Bond on August 5, 2010

    Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews recently sparked some interesting online chatter about why students aren’t better prepared for college-level writing, and what can be done about it.

    In a first article, Mathews introduces us to high school history teacher Doris Burton, who asserts that state and district course requirements leave “no room” for the assignment of serious research papers of 3000 words (10-12 pages) or more. According to Mathews, “We are beginning to see, in the howls of exasperation from college introductory course professors and their students, how high a price we are paying for this."

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  • Do Americans Think Unions Help Everyone?

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 4, 2010

    The question in the headline is fundamental when trying to understand attitudes towards organized labor, as well as the relatively low union presence in the U.S. The "if I can't have it, nobody can" attitude that anti-labor advocates try to promote among non-members packs far less punch if people understand that many of the conditions they take for granted - trivial things like sick days, minimum wages, and yes, weekends - are in no small part thanks to past and current efforts of the U.S. labor movement. Awareness of these efforts, and of the positive union effect on everyone's wages and benefits, is also, no doubt, partially dependent on one's experience with unions (e.g., coming from a "union family").

    So, it might be instructive to take a quick look at attitudes towards labor's effects in the U.S. compared with those in other nations, and whether this appears to be related to the degree of unionization. Basically - do Americans think unions help all workers, and how do our attitudes stack up against other nations?

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  • Performance Pay On (Randomized) Trial

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 3, 2010

    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.

    But now, just in time to be way too late, there are currently four high-quality evaluations of teacher performance pay programs in progress, and they are the first large-scale experimental studies of how these bonuses affect performance in the U.S.
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  • Value-Added And Collateral Damage

    by Matthew Di Carlo on July 29, 2010

    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.

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  • Curriculum: The Missing Link

    by Eugenia Kemble on July 27, 2010

    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.

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  • A Below Basic Understanding Of Proficiency

    by Matthew Di Carlo on July 23, 2010

    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?

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  • "Outsource Everybody?"

    by Randall Garton on July 22, 2010

    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.

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  • Willie Sutton In China

    by Randall Garton on July 20, 2010

    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.

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  • The Time Factor: It's Not Just KIPP

    by Matthew Di Carlo on July 20, 2010

    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.

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  • The Anti-Sweatshop Label: Dignity At 80 Cents A Pop

    by Burnie Bond on July 19, 2010

    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.

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