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Guest Posts

  • An International Perspective On Corporate Pay

    Written on October 14, 2011

    Our guest author today is Michael Tims, associate professor of biology at Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Maryland. Some of his writing can be found on his science blog, Bardo's Calculus, as well as at the Hyattstown Mill Arts Project, where he is a board member.

    The growing wealth gap in the United States has worried some commentators for years. The length and breadth of the economic crisis, and the suffering it has brought with it, have moved those concerns into the mainstream. One aspect of this development that warrants more attention is the connection between declining rates of unionization, and the incredible gap between the pay of workers and their bosses.

    As corporate resistance to unions has increased and union density declined, the discrepancy in pay between management and worker has grown extreme. Since the mid 1970s, the average multiple of CEO pay to worker pay has increased from 28x in 1970 to 158x in 2005, to almost 400x in 2010. . Their average "total realized annual CEO compensation" is currently $12 million, according to Governance Metrics International. During this same period, worker pay has stagnated and fallen behind inflation, despite an historic rise in workforce productivity

    This phenomenon of high pay disparity in the industrial world is uniquely American, with the next highest countries being Britain (25x), Sweden (13x), Germany (11x) and Japan (10x). Claims that these pay levels represent success on the part of the CEO appear to be misleading.

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  • Predicaments Of Reform

    Written on August 31, 2011

    Our guest author today is David K. Cohen, John Dewey Collegiate Professor of Education and professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, and a member of the Shanker Institute’s board of directors. This is a response to Michael Petrilli, who recently published a post on the Fordham Institute’s blog that referred to Cohen’s new book.

    Dear Mike:

    Thank you for considering my book Teaching And Its Predicaments (Harvard University Press, 2011), and for your intelligent discussion of the issues. I write to continue the conversation. 

    You are right to say that I see the incoherence of U.S. public education as a barrier to more quality and less inequality, but I do not "look longingly" at Asia or Finland, let alone take them as models for what Americans should do to improve schools. 

    In my 2009 book (The Ordeal Of Equality: Did Federal Regulation Fix The Schools?), Susan L. Moffitt and I recounted the great difficulties that the "top-down" approach to coherence, with which you associate my work, encountered as Title I of the 1965 ESEA was refashioned to leverage much greater central influence on schooling. Susan and I concluded that increased federal regulation had not fixed the schools, and had caused some real damage along with some important constructive effects. We did not see central coherence as The Answer.

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  • Again, Niche Reforms Are Not The Answer

    Written on August 9, 2011

    Our guest author today is David K. Cohen, John Dewey Collegiate Professor of Education and professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, and a member of the Shanker Institute’s board of directors.

    A recent response to my previous post on these pages helps to underscore one of my central points: If there is no clarity about what it will take to improve schools, it will be difficult to design a system that can do it.  In a recent essay in the Sunday New York Times Magazine, Paul Tough wrote that education reformers who advocated "no excuses" schooling were now making excuses for reformed schools' weak performance.  He explained why: " Most likely for the same reason that urban educators from an earlier generation made excuses: successfully educating large numbers of low-income kids is very, very hard." 

     In his post criticizing my initial essay, "What does it mean to ‘fix the system’?," the Fordham Institute’s Chris Tessone told the story of how Newark Public Schools tried to meet the requirements of a federal school turnaround grant. The terms of the grant required that each of three failing high school replace at least half of their staff. The schools, he wrote, met this requirement largely by swapping a portion of their staffs with one another, a process which Tessone and school administrators refer to as the “dance of the lemons.”Would such replacement be likely to solve the problem?

    Even if all of the replaced teachers had been weak (which we do not know), I doubt that such replacement could have done much to help.

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  • Evaluating Individual Teachers Won't Solve Systemic Educational Problems

    Written on July 26, 2011

    ** Also posted here on "Valerie Strauss' Answer Sheet" in the Washington Post

    Our guest author today is David K. Cohen, John Dewey Collegiate Professor of Education and professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, and a member of the Shanker Institute’s board of directors.  

    What are we to make of recent articles (here and here) extolling IMPACT, Washington DC’s fledging teacher evaluation system, for how many "ineffective" teachers have been identified and fired, how many "highly effective" teachers rewarded? It’s hard to say.

    In a forthcoming book, Teaching and Its Predicaments (Harvard University Press, August 2011), I argue that fragmented school governance in the U.S. coupled with the lack of coherent educational infrastructure make it difficult either to broadly improve teaching and learning or to have valid knowledge of the extent of improvement. Merriam-Webster defines "infrastructure" as: "the underlying foundation or basic framework (as of a system or organization)." The term is commonly used to refer to the roads, rail systems, and other frameworks that facilitate the movement of things and people, or to the physical and electronic mechanisms that enable voice and video communication. But social systems also can have such "underlying foundations or basic frameworks". For school systems around the world, the infrastructure commonly includes student curricula or curriculum frameworks, exams to assess students’ learning of the curricula, instruction that centers on teaching that curriculum, and teacher education that aims to help prospective teachers learn how to teach the curricula. The U.S. has had no such common and unifying infrastructure for schools, owing in part to fragmented government (including local control) and traditions of weak state guidance about curriculum and teacher education.

    Like many recent reform efforts that focus on teacher performance and accountability, IMPACT does not attempt to build infrastructure, but rather assumes that weak individual teachers are the problem. There are some weak individual teachers, but the chief problem has been a non-system that offers no guidance or support for strong teaching and learning, precisely because there has been no infrastructure. IMPACT frames reform as a matter of solving individual problems when the weakness is systemic.

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  • Remembering Elena Bonner; Honoring Andrei Sakharov

    Written on July 1, 2011

    Our guest author today is Arch Puddington, director of research at Freedom House.

    Two years ago, Elena Bonner, frail in body but not in mind or spirit, had this to say about conditions in Russia:

    The West isn’t very interested in Russia….There are no real elections there, no independent courts, and no freedom of the press. Russia is a country where journalists, human rights activists and migrants are killed regularly, almost daily. And extreme corruption flourishes of a kind and extent that never existed earlier in Russia or anywhere else. So what do the Western mass media discuss mainly? Gas and oil -- of which Russia has a lot. Energy is its only political trump card, and Russia uses it as an instrument of pressure and blackmail. And there’s another topic that never disappears from the newspapers -- who rules Russia? Putin or Medvedev? But what difference does it make, if Russia has completely lost the impulse for democratic development that we thought we saw in the early 1990s.
    Here, in a few sentences of remarkable insight, Bonner, who died recently, neatly summarized much of Russian reality today.
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  • A Response To Joel Klein

    Written on May 24, 2011

    Our guest author today is Edith (Eadie) Shanker, Albert Shanker’s widow and a retired New York City teacher.

    A few months ago, in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Joel Klein invoked Al Shanker’s name as an educator in support of today’s charter school “reform” efforts. Klein wanted the public to believe that Al was the originator of the charter school concept (he wasn’t) and that he would today be supportive of the charter school ”reform” ideology now being spread around New York City and the country as a panacea for low student achievement. Conveniently, Klein did not indicate that Al denounced the idea of charters when it became clear that the concept had changed and was being hijacked by corporate and business interests. In Al’s view, such hijacking would result in the privatization of public education and, ultimately, its destruction - all without improving student outcomes.

    Now, in his recent Atlantic magazine article, Klein trots out a quotation attributed to Al (said in jest if at all) to support the stereotype that, as a union leader, Al cared only about “protecting” the union’s members, including “bad” teachers. Using this alleged quotation – “when school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of children” - Klein not only plays fast and loose with Al’s reputation as a union leader but also as a sterling educator. (To be a true expert on Al’s views on how to improve education for children - and how to be a union leader - Klein could check out 27 years’ worth of his “Where We Stand” columns in the New York Times.)

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  • Fordham Responds To The Common Core "Counter-Manifesto"

    Written on May 12, 2011

    The following post was written by Chester E. Finn Jr., President, and Michael J. Petrilli, Executive Vice-President, of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C.  It was originally posted here, on the Fordham Institute’s blog. We have reprinted it with the permission of the authors.

    The "counter-manifesto" released this week in opposition to national testing and a national curriculum is full of half-truths, mischaracterizations, and straw men. But it was signed by a lot of serious people and deserves a serious response.

    First, let us dispatch some silliness. To the best of our knowledge, and based on all evidence that we’re aware of, neither the signers of the Shanker Institute manifesto, nor leaders in the Obama/Duncan Education Department, advocate a “nationalized curriculum” that would “undermine control of public school curriculum and instruction at the local and state level” and “transfer control to an elephantine, inside-the-Beltway bureaucracy." Nor is anybody calling for “a one-size fits all, centrally controlled curriculum for every K-12 subject." We certainly wouldn’t support such a policy—and can understand why the conservative luminaries who signed the counter-manifesto wouldn’t want it, either. As parents, grandparents, charter-school authorizers, and champions of school choice in almost all its forms, we believe deeply in the importance of schools having the freedom to shape their own unique educational approaches.

    So let us be clear: While the assessments linked to the Common Core State Standards will be mandatory (for schools and districts in states that choose to use them), the use of any common curricular materials will be purely voluntary. We don’t see any evidence to indicate otherwise.

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  • The Importance of STEM In The Early Grades

    Written on May 5, 2011

    Our guest author today is Stan Litow, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs at IBM, President of the IBM Foundation, and a member of the Shanker Institute's board of directors.

    This is a difficult year for city and state leaders. They are struggling mightily with how to cope with both declining revenues and escalating costs, resulting in painful short term decisions about what to cut, how to cut, and ways in which basic or vital services can be maintained. Sadly, we have heard far too little these days about where to invest and how to invest in order to produce longer term benefit and mitigate longer term costs.

    As people focus on education, it has been common wisdom that business leaders and those concerned with the bottom line have an interest in education too, but that interest is focused solely on STEM, or Science Technology, Engineering and Math. And that focus is placed on the later grades such as middle and high schools. It is undeniable that STEM is important, especially if we are to nurture the next generation of innovators. To do so, we must invest more creatively to improve teacher quality and student outcomes. But we can not address these challenges by limiting our focus to secondary education. While career pathways are great motivators for teenagers and young adults, we simply can not wait until high school - or even middle school - to prepare students and capture their imaginations. We must start earlier, much earlier. In that effort, early childhood education is vitally important.

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  • Tunisia Needs International Supervision For The Upcoming July Elections

    Written on May 3, 2011

    Our guest author today is Radwan A. Masmoudi, President of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington, D.C. A version of this post has appeared on other sites that follow political developments in the Muslim world.

    As head of the Tunisian High Council for Political Reforms and the Achievement of the Goals of the Revolution, Dr. Iadh Ben Achour has declared his opposition to international monitors for Tunisia’s July 24th elections.  He says international “observers”   -- essentially a pro forma intervention -- would be acceptable. This is a mistake and represents a misplaced emphasis on sovereignty and a major retreat from the post-revolution commitments of the interim government—including the president and former prime minister, both of whom recognize that Tunisia has never organized free and fair elections, and most Tunisians won’t accept the election results without international supervision or at least monitors.

    The “sensitivity” about foreign intervention has been used (and abused) by oppressive governments and regimes around the globe, helping to set the stage for massive election fraud. We have been down this road before, under Ben Ali, Mubarak, Saleh, and the other Arab dictators. True sovereignty belongs to the people, and the best way to protect that sovereignty is to ensure that the elections are free and fair. Today, many Tunisians do not believe that this interim government is capable of organizing truly free and fair elections, and are afraid that these elections—as in the past—will not reflect the will of the people.

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  • K-12 Standardized Testing Craze Hinders Enthusiasm And Creativity For The Long Haul

    Written on March 14, 2011

    Our guest author today is Bill Scheuerman, professor of political science at the State University of New York, Oswego and a retired president of the United University Professions. He is also a member of the Shanker Institute board of directors.

    A recent study by Richard Arum, Josipa Roksa, and Esther Cho, entitled Improving Undergraduate Learning: Findings and Policy Recommendations from the SSRC-CLA Longitudinal Project, should make us all take a closer look at student learning in higher education. The report finds that students enter college with values at odds with academic achievement. They party more and work less, but this lack of effort has had little or no effect on grade point averages. The study indicates that some 36 percent of current college graduates did not improve their critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills, despite having relatively high GPAs. In other words, more than a third of new graduates lack the ability to understand and critically evaluate the world we live in.

    Nobody is arguing that we should go back to the good old days when college access was limited to the elite. Politicians and business are united in the goal of the United States once again attaining the highest percentage of college graduates in the world.

    Notably, in the face of rising global competition from China and India, President Obama has called this the "Sputnik moment" for math and science education in the U.S.

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