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  • A Quality-Based Look At Seniority-Based Layoffs

    by Matthew Di Carlo on February 4, 2011

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

    Eliminating seniority-based layoffs is a policy idea that is making the rounds these days, with proponents making special appeals to cash-strapped states and districts desperately looking for ways to save money while minimizing decreases in the quality of services.  Mayors, editorial boards, and others have joined in the chorus.

    There’s a few existing high-quality simulations that compare seniority-based layoffs with one alternative – laying off based on teachers’ value-added scores (most recently, one analysis of Washington State and another using data from New York City; both are worth reading).  Unsurprisingly, the simulations show that the two policies would not lay off the same teachers, and that the seniority-based layoffs would save less money for the same number of dismissals (since the least experienced teachers are paid less).  In addition, the teachers laid off based on seniority have lower average value-added scores than those laid off based on those value-added scores (as would inevitably be the case).

    Based in part on these and other analyses, critics have a pretty solid argument on the surface: Seniority makes us “fire good teachers” simply because they don’t have enough experience, and we can fire fewer teachers if we use “quality” instead of seniority. 

    To be clear: I think that there is a sound case for exploring alternatives to seniority-based layoffs, but many of the recent arguments for so-called “quality-based” layoffs have been so simplistic and reactionary that they may actually serve to deter serious conversations about how to change these practices.

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  • Ready, Disclaim, Fire

    by Matthew Di Carlo on January 31, 2011

    Earlier today, newly-elected Michigan Governor Rick Snyder released his "Citizens’ Guide to Michigan’s Economic Health." The general purpose was to provide an easy-to-understand presentation of the state’s finances, and to encourage local governments to do the same. These are of course laudable goals, but one of the report’s major findings, also mentioned in the governor’s press release, was a familiar one:

    Average annual compensation of state employees (including salary, wages, and benefits) was over twice the average annual compensation of private sector workers in 2009.
    As might be expected, many reporters and editors dutifully ran this outrage-inspiring finding as a headline (also here and here), even before the report was officially released: State workers make twice as much as private sector workers. Governor Snyder rolled out the report as part of his presentation to the Business Leaders for Michigan Summit, in which he spoke about the state’s fiscal situation.

    I’ve already discussed how these gross comparisons of public and private sector workers – whether nationally or in a single state – are invalid. That is, they compare two completely different groups of workers: Public employees, who are mostly professionals, and private sector workers, many of whom work in lower-wage, lower-skill jobs. But this time, you don’t need to take my word for it. After featuring the “twice as much” finding in a header and pull-out quote, the governor’s report says it directly:

    However, this analysis does not compare private and public sector employees with similar jobs, years of experience, or education.
    Let me translate that for you. It means: This comparison is meaningless.
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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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