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  • Think You Know About Teacher Attrition?

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 17, 2010

    Every four years, with the release of the Teacher Follow-Up Survey (TFS), we get what is virtually our only source of reliable information on the rates of and reasons for teacher attrition in the U.S.

    The survey is a supplement to the much larger Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS), which is also conducted every four years by the National Center for Education Statistics. The SASS is an extensive survey of characteristics, conditions, and other variables of over 30,000 teachers across the nation. The TFS simply contacts a sample of the SASS participants the following year to see if they’re still teaching, and if not, what they’re doing. For this round, the 2007-08 SASS respondents were contacted again in 2008-09 for the TFS.

    The TFS divides respondents into three categories: stayers (teachers in the same school as last year); movers (teachers who are still teaching but in a different school and/or district); and leavers (teachers who left teaching for whatever reason, including retirement). Overall, among public school teachers in 2008-09, 84.5 percent were stayers, 7.6 percent were movers, and 7.9 percent were leavers (note that these are annual, not cumulative rates).

    While some of the TFS results are unsurprising, there may be plenty about teacher attrition that you thought you knew but didn’t.

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  • Education Reform, Redux

    by Burnie Bond on August 13, 2010

    Ever get the feeling that we are having the same old educational debate, over and over? A glance through the archives of the Atlantic Monthly helps to cement the notion.

    One writer describes schools as “society's dumping ground,…a vast refuse heap for any and every unwanted service or task that other social or governmental institutions and agencies find too tough to handle. The community, the home, and to some extent even the church have used the public schools to relieve their consciences of feelings of guilt by passing on unfinished business which they have found [too] difficult …or just burdensome." That was 1959.

    Another pleads for “education reform," while admitting that the term has been so overused as to become virtually meaningless. “America has been oversold on pedagogical gadgets which never perform up to expectations," he says. But, since “standards in American public education are deplorably and inexcusably low," something must be done. In a democracy, he writes, every citizen deserves “an education… [grounded] in learning, in mastery, in growing insight, in standards which really operate – and not just in going to school. So when multitudes of young people accumulate credits, pass courses, carry off elegant [diplomas], and come out knowing little or nothing, it is simply intolerable." That was 1939.

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  • Public Apples, Private Oranges

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 12, 2010

    Hardly a week goes by during which an editorial or column in a major newspaper doesn’t comment on how public sector workers are making a killing compared with their private sector counterparts. Recently, as a result of the "edujobs bill," there has been even more of this chatter than usual about “overpaid” government workers with “bloated benefits” and “fireproof” positions. Some of these commentaries even purport to present “evidence."

    Earlier this week, for instance, a piece in the Washington Examiner cited data showing that average compensation (salary plus benefits) for federal government workers was roughly twice that of private sector workers. Sound remarkable? Not so much.

    This “argument” is akin to comparing the compensation of employees at IBM versus WalMart. You are talking about two very different groups of jobs.

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  • Why Aren't We Closing The Achievement Gap?

    by Matthew Di Carlo on August 11, 2010

    The gap in school performance comes “pre-installed," as it were, beginning well before children ever step foot in the classroom. By the time they enter kindergarten, poor children are already at a huge disadvantage relative to their counterparts from high-income families. So what can be done? Stop putting out fires and prevent them – address the achievement gap before it widens.

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  • Extra Curricula

    by Eugenia Kemble on August 9, 2010

    In a recent post on Jay P. Greene’s blog, Greg Forster admonishes the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for running my piece on the importance of common curriculum in Gadfly, its weekly education publication (here). My ideas were never addressed. He simply uses the piece (and the fact of my position with the Albert Shanker Institute) to inform Checker Finn, Fordham's president, of his and Greene’s continuing worry "that the national standards machine Fordham has helped to create will be hijacked by the teacher unions." Forster goes on to issue a diatribe about the dangers of "national standards," "national curriculum," and "federal control of schools." He warns of this conspiracy leading to "a benevolent dictator who will make sure that everyone will do everything in the one best way." He also implies that the advocates of standards/curriculum-based education reform (an impressive bipartisan list), are really collaborators in a misguided plot to federalize education.

    Mr. Forster could not have read what I wrote very carefully to come up with such a distorted account.

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  • The Jobs Imperative

    by Randall Garton on August 5, 2010

    With today’s Senate passage of the new public sector jobs bill, the federal government’s role in stimulating the economy is once again in the limelight. The use of public dollars to leverage jobs in the private sector is even more controversial. Historically (and today) U.S. business wants government to "get out of the way," and let market forces determine outcomes (at least until they themselves need to be bailed out). The priority is "maximizing shareholder value." The fewer workers you need to do that, or the lower their cost, the better.

    Still, some worry that the axiom of maximizing shareholder value lately has been taken to a destructive extreme. One of those is Andy Grove, former CEO of Intel and still a consultant to the U.S. chip-making giant. In a recent interview in Business Week, Grove noted that U.S. business is "...largely oblivious to emerging evidence that while free markets beat planned economies, there may be room for a modification that is even better."

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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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