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  • The Unbearable Sadness Of Being Anti-Labor

    by Matthew Di Carlo on January 31, 2011

    I recently came across this article (published last year) by Michael Barone in the Washington Examiner about the relationship between President Obama and labor unions, and I was struck by one of its sentences, which refers to the now-stalled Employee Free Choice Act. The sentence is simple enough:

    Union leaders believe that with card check they could vastly increase their dues income.
    This kind of statement is neither uncommon nor particularly inflammatory. But it speaks volumes. It is simultaneously remarkable and pedestrian, a window into the premises of an anti-union viewpoint.

    In a limited sense, it is of course true. Unions do want to expand their membership. A larger membership brings more influence and benefits for existing members (as well as other workers), and dues income is one of the tools necessary for accomplishing these goals.

    But the implication of the sentence - that unions and their leaders are only out for more money - illustrates how some people who maintain an anti-labor perspective, with its focus on economic self-interest, seem largely unable or unwilling to acknowledge what it means to be a part of something bigger than one's own interests, and to employ collective means toward collective ends.

    And that is sad.

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  • Schools As Battlegrounds

    by Randall Garton on January 27, 2011

    We warn you to leave your job as a teacher as soon as possible otherwise we will cut the heads off your children and shall set fire to your daughter

    - Letter to Afghani teacher from Taliban insurgents

    These threats, in a letter from Taliban insurgents to an Afghani teacher, are emblematic of the deteriorating situation for teachers and students in many parts of the world. Between March and October 2010, for example, 20 schools in Afghanistan were attacked using explosives or arson, and insurgents killed 126 Afghani students.

    These and other atrocities were documented by Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a new "school battleground" report, which was released as part of the organization’s annual human rights survey summarizing conditions in more than 90 countries and territories worldwide.

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  • Overcoming The Democratic Recession

    by Arch Puddington on January 26, 2011

    Our guest authors today are Arch Puddington, (director of research) and David J. Kramer (executive director) of Freedom House, a bipartisan organization founded in 1941 by Wendell Willkie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and others.  It has worked tirelessly over the intervening decades to promote democratic values both at home and abroad. It is best known for its annual Freedom in the World survey, which analyzes the state of political freedom and civil liberties. In 2010, it published The Global State of Workers’ Rights: Free Labor in a Hostile World, a survey of union and workers rights, and a global map of labor rights, with support from the Albert Shanker Institute. Along with the Shanker Institute, Freedom House is also a cosponsor of DemocracyWeb, a resource for history, civics and comparative government education.  Antonia Cortese, secretary treasurer of the Shanker Institute, also serves on the Freedom House Board of Trustees.

    As we enter a new decade, the evidence is fast mounting that global freedom is under the most intense pressure it has faced in many years. According to the most recent report issued by Freedom House, 2010 marked the fifth consecutive year of a worldwide democracy recession. During that period, democracy has suffered setbacks in every region of the world.  All of the political institutions that are crucial to democratic governance—including elections, press freedom, rule of law, minority rights—have suffered setbacks.

    The palpable lack of confidence among democracies in their own system of government, driven in part by the global economic crisis that has affected market economies more severely than authoritarian ones, partly explains these trends.  Recently, for the first time since the end of the Cold War, western pundits are raising questions about the efficacy of democratic systems.

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  • Meet The Bureaucrats

    by Matthew Di Carlo on January 23, 2011

    You needn’t look far to see that state public employees are under intense scrutiny. Politicians and other commentators are using rhetoric that is simplistic and often misleading. But, in the debate over their relative value, these state workers have an additional problem: I get the strong feeling that most Americans have little idea what they do.

    If you ask the average person to describe what a public employee does, you might hear the word “bureaucrat." Those who wish to dismantle large chunks of the public sector have come to use the term as the pejorative for all public servants (most often in the federal government context) - probably in the hope that it will conjure up images of large government buildings filled with endless rows of faceless, overpaid desk workers collating papers.

    So, who are these state public employees? What are they actually doing? These are very basic questions, yet they are rarely addressed in detail, at least not lately. And, let’s be honest – in one way or another, our tax dollars do pay for these workers’ services, and regardless of your views on state budget troubles, it’s always good to know what you’re paying for. Luckily, of course, the question is easily answered. In the simple table below, using 2009 data from the Occupational Employment Statistics program of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, I present the breakdown of state government workers by occupational category (note: these categories are comprised of varying numbers of similar detailed occupations, and while my examples in the table are the largest, they are not the only ones in each category).

    In order to summarize this table, let’s suppose you’re invited to a party to meet ten people, who are a roughly representative sample of the 4.5 million state employees across the nation. Let’s meet the bureaucrats!

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  • The “Jobless” Recovery: Implications For Education?

    by James R. Stone on January 21, 2011

    Our guest author today is James R. Stone, professor and director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education at the University of Louisville.

    The headline of the USA Today article reads: “Tense Time for Workers, As Career Paths Fade Away” (January 13, 2011). The article notes that while most key economic indicators have improved over the past two years, the unemployment rate has remained persistently high. This is a jobless recovery.

    Is this a time for pessimism or a time for a reality check?

    This is not the first jobless recovery. The recession of the early 1990s spawned books with titles such as The Jobless Future (1994), A Future of Lousy Jobs (1990), The End of Work (1995), The End of Affluence (1995), and When Work Disappears (1996). Any one of those, and many other, similarly-titled books and articles could speak to today’s labor market crisis. Were these authors prescient or is the creative destruction in the labor market wrought by our relatively unbridled free enterprise system’s speeding up the cycles? I’ll leave that for economists to argue.

    What is new this time around is the effect of the recession on recent college graduates.

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  • No Comment

    by Burnie Bond on January 20, 2011

    Yale University will soon end two prestigious teacher training programs due to lack of interest, according to the January/February alumni magazine.

    The first, a traditional teacher preparation program, offered education courses and teacher certification to undergraduates. The second, Yale’s five-year-old Urban Teaching Initiative, offered a tuition-free 14-month master’s in education program to those willing to commit to teaching in New Haven’s urban public school system.

    "At the same time a record 18 percent of Yale seniors applied to Teach for America last year…"

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  • China Flunks Its Own Standards

    by Randall Garton on January 19, 2011

    In the "dog bites man" department, Human Rights Watch (HRW) recently released a devastating report, which found that the Chinese had "failed to deliver" the human rights gains promised in its much-ballyhooed, first-ever "National Human Rights Action Plan" for 2009-10.

    The report is timely, since Chinese President Hu Jintao is in Washington this week to discuss a wide variety of issues with President Obama and other U.S. leaders, including human rights. In terms of "promises made and promises broken," the U.S. will surely have China’s human rights record of the last two years in mind.

    HRW reports that the years 2009-2010 witnessed a "rollback of key civil and political rights" in China, as the regime, among other actions, stepped up its practice of "enforced disappearances and arbitrary detentions, including in secret, unlawful detention facilities known as ‘black jails.’" It also:

    • "continued its practice of sentencing high-profile dissidents such as imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo to lengthy prison terms on spurious state secrets or "subversion" charges;
    • expanded restrictions on media and internet freedom;
    • tightened controls on lawyers, human rights defenders, and nongovernmental organizations;
    • broadened controls on Uighurs and Tibetans."

    This is a serious report. By taking China at its word as to the sincerity of its Human Rights Action Plan, HRW throws a lot of cold water on the theory that has been a critical part of U.S. China policy for nearly half a century: that engagement will lead to democratic change.

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  • Policy And Research: A Shotgun Wedding In New Jersey

    by Matthew Di Carlo on January 18, 2011

    Earlier today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced his plan to open 23 new charter schools in his state.  Just hours before this announcement, the NJ education department issued an analysis of new data on the performance of charter schools in the state (during the 2009-10 school year).   In an accompanying press release, the department claims that “the data affirms [sic] the need for Governor Christie’s reform proposals to grow the number of high-quality charter schools…” 

    The release also contains several other extremely bold assertions that the results support expanding the state’s charter sector.  The title of the actual report, which contains only tables, is: "Living Up to Expectations: Charter Schools in New Jersey Outperforming District Schools."

    Unfortunately, however, the analysis could barely pass muster if submitted by a student in one of the state’s high school math classes (charter or regular public).

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  • Treating Teachers Like Professionals

    by Matthew Di Carlo on January 18, 2011

    I was very interested to see, in a post by my colleague last month, that elementary school teachers were again voted among the top five most “honest and ethical” occupations in America, by respondents to a November 2010 Gallup Poll

    According to Gallup, 67 percent of respondents rated the honesty/ethics of teachers as “high/very high," 24 percent rated it “average," and 6 percent rated it as “low/very low” (the error margin is +/- 4 percentage points). Only nurses, military officers, and pharmacists ranked higher (with doctors, who ranked 5th, in a statistical tie with teachers).

    I found this interesting because it contradicts a key underlying feature of much of our public education debate. I’ve heard many thousands of teachers speaking out against the market-based reforms that are currently in vogue among opinion leaders, and seen them effectively ignored. I’ve heard everyone from Oprah to big-city superintendents to major television networks tout "Waiting for Superman" — a movie that supposedly focuses on teacher quality as the key to improving education, yet fails to interview even a single teacher. I’ve read hundreds of articles and posts that imply (and sometimes state directly) that teachers who oppose a favored policy do so because they "fear accountability," or that they are more interested in their compensation and job security than in the children they teach. 

    Many teachers call this type of behavior "teacher hating" or a "war on teachers." In my view, however, the fundamental issue here is trust. And the public’s continued faith in teachers does not seem to be shared by many of today’s pundits and policymakers. These same people say frequently that they want to "treat teachers like professionals," but there's a lot more to that than personnel policies.

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  • Premises, Presentation And Predetermination In The Gates MET Study

    by Matthew Di Carlo on January 12, 2011

    ** Also posted here on “Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” in the Washington Post

    The National Education Policy Center today released a scathing review of last month’s preliminary report from the Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) project. The critique was written by Jesse Rothstein, a highly-respected Berkeley economist and author of an elegant and oft-cited paper demonstrating how non-random classroom assignment biases value-added estimates (also see the follow-up analysis).

    Very quickly on the project: Over two school years (this year and last), MET researchers, working  in six large districts—Charlotte-Mecklenburg, Dallas, Denver, Hillsborough County (FL), Memphis, and New York City—have been gathering an unprecedented collection of data on teachers and students, grades 4-8.  Using a variety of assessments, videotapes of classroom instruction, and surveys (student surveys are featured in the preliminary report), the project is attempting to address some of the heretofore under-addressed issues in the measurement of teacher quality (especially non-random classroom assignment and how different classroom practices lead to different outcomes, neither of which are part of this preliminary report). The end goal is to use the information to guide in the creation of more effective teacher evaluation systems that incorporate high-quality multiple measures.

    Despite my disagreements with some of the Gates Foundation’s core views about school reform, I think that they deserve a lot of credit for this project. It is heavily-resourced, the research team is top-notch, and the issues they’re looking at are huge.  The study is very, very important — done correctly. 

    But Rothstein’s general conclusion about the initial MET report is that the results “do not support the conclusions drawn from them." Very early in the review, the following assertion also jumps off the page: "there are troubling indications that the Project’s conclusions were predetermined."

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