Monday, November 22, 2010

Our unreal education discourse

Two articles featuring the billionaires Bill Gates and Thomas Friedman in the New York Times this past weekend exemplified the unreality of education discourse in this country. Gates wrote that, on his word, school districts across the country should change the ways teachers are compensated:
He suggests they end teacher pay increases based on seniority and on master’s degrees, which he says are unrelated to teachers’ ability to raise student achievement. He also urges an end to efforts to reduce class sizes. Instead, he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools.
Funny how the Plutocrats' ideas always seem to revolve around destroying unions and implementing failed policies. If you had any doubts about the ideas of the Obama administration, they align with Gates:
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered his own speech in Washington this week, titled “Bang for the Buck in Schooling,” in which he made arguments similar to those of Mr. Gates
Gates' point seems to be that the schools are failing, and their funding is falling, so something has to be done. His idea is to take the money away from teachers. By instituting ideas borrowed from business, such as merit pay, he believes the schools can be improved while spending less. It's an idea - a terrible one - but an idea nonetheless. Run schools like a business? Been there, done that.

Though he is an uber-capitalist, apparently Mr Gates does not believe in the adage, "you get what you pay for."  The belief that somehow a cutthroat businessman like Gates would know the best way to educate children underscores the current lunacy in education discourse. When you're the richest man in America you get a seat at any table you wish, and you can seriously suggest moronic, proven wrong ideas like raising class sizes.

Friedman, the other billionaire dispensing education advice from the Times, argues along the same lines, citing Finland (a ridiculous comparison, as The Daily Howler pointed out ) as an example to emulate:
If you look at the countries leading the pack in the tests that measure these skills (like Finland and Denmark), one thing stands out: they insist that their teachers come from the top one-third of their college graduating classes...They have invested massively in how they recruit, train and support teachers, to attract and retain the best.”
Could Friedman be more ignorant? The whole education deform movement is built around discounting the education and expertise of professional teachers. The very title of Friedman's column, "Teaching for America," evokes the "Teach for America" brand of deliberately under-trained teachers being foisted on American schools. Gates recommends not paying Master teachers a bonus for their attainment. School teachers have been under constant attack for almost two decades - that's hardly an incentive to attract the best and brightest.

Here in the real world states are spending less on education. The federal Department of Education is about to get its funding cut by the incoming House Republicans. State after state, awash in red ink, is cutting spending on education.  In Minnesota the state has taken away $2 billion in promised funding over the past two years alone.

In a rational world men like Gates and Friedman would be laughed out of the room when they started talking about how to educate children. But in our Plutocracy they're treated like sages.


Alec Timmerman said...

   The Bill Gates funded study on the most effective state teacher policies is a fascinating read.

Bill and some others studied state regulations to determine which states have techer policies we should emulate.

The states that do the best have several things in common:

They are anti-union
They have no or very weak labor/unio prescence
The have the worst student outcomes in the nation

The states at the top of Bill Gate's scale are Alabama, Texas, South CArolina, etc. Could it be more obvious that the criteria align with labor goals and not student goals, and that their labor goals don't correlate with good student outcomes?

The answer is extremely complexbut simple at the same time. If you want good education, support good teaching.

These folks don't focus on solutions. They focus on the problems. Our biggest problem is the collosal waste of losing 50% of teachers, not getting rid of bad ones. Support good teaching so the bad improve or get out, the good get better, and the best actually stick around.

If you don't support good teaching, you don't support kids. You're in an idealogical battle against labor. that's fine, but bring it on that front. Keep the kids out of it.

Stretched analogy alert: After Adrian Peterson's horrible performance against Green Bay, these clowns would have fired him. He worked his butt off, is super talented, but he didn't get it done. It's his fault. Personally, I'd work to support my best talent. Not fire them.

Alec Timmerman said...

Oh yeah, Finland pays for 100% of master's degrees in both education and content. They are also 100% union with tenure protection. Please,, oh please can we emulate Finland!!

DiscordianStooge said...

They have really bad ideas if they would fire a guy for the pretty good game Peterson had Sunday. ;)

Adam Smith said...

I suggest that the level of reasoning in this post fails to rise to the Stool’s standards. Let’s look at the comments on Bill Gates.<span>  </span>First, examine how Mr. Levine supports his conclusions. <span> </span>Mr. Levine accuses Gates of proposing “destroying unions” (hedged with “seem to”).<span>  </span>Where’s the support for that? The article about Gates cited does not suggest Gates wants to destroy unions.<span>  </span>The closest Gates gets is this: “’Of course, restructuring pay systems is like kicking a beehive’ — but restructure them anyway, Mr. Gates plans to tell the superintendents in his talk to the Council of Chief State School Officers, which opens a convention in Louisville on Friday.”<span>  </span>Levine states that Gates wants to “to take the money away from teachers.”<span>  </span>Again, that charge is unsupported.<span>  </span>The article Levine cites does say this: “he suggests rewarding the most effective teachers with higher pay for taking on larger classes or teaching in needy schools,” but that citation does not support Levine’s charge.<span>  </span>Nothing in that article suggests that Gates believes that restructuring is the same as reducing.

Second, let’s consider the tone.<span>  </span>When a writer can support charges that another’s ideas are “moronic,” that writer can, I suppose, toss in a train of name-calling (“Plutocrat,” “uber-capitalist,” “cutthroat,” “lunacy,” and “moronic”).<span>  </span>I challenge you, Mr. Levine, though, to go through my first paragraph and show the Stool’s readers how the New York Times article supports your opinions about Gates.<span>  </span>

And just as a footnote, do you really think that the “Been there, done that” link establishes the point that no one can “seriously suggest” raising class size and that ideas proposed by non-educators are worthless?<span>  </span>Go reread the link you provided and get back to us on how that link is proof that should forever cut off debate on class size or any other issue.

Alec Timmerman said...

Mr. Smith,

     Could you please explain why the Bill Gates funded Teacher Policy Handbook rates as best only states that are non-union, right to work states, even though those states have the worst student outcomes? If it isn't about destroying unions and labor, then why does Gate's study promote non-union states in spite of their poor student outcomes. Visit the site Adam.

Rob Levine said...

Go back and look at Gates and the Gates Foundation. They are for breaking up schools and creating many small schools. They are for charter schools and Teach for America. I may have used shorthand to describe Gates, but just because the information about him doesn't appear in a NY Times business section piece doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Here's a link.

As far as taking money away from teachers, well, if you pay some teachers more  based on subjective and mult-variate criteria like student's test scores, and you hold steady or reduce the total amount paid to teachers, then many teachers will get smaller saleries.

Okay - "lunacy" and "moronic" may be hyperbolic, but not by much. What really do these two dudes add to the discourse? THey make it worse, not better.

The "been there, done that" link doesn't  prove the point - it makes an ironic jab at the underlying ideas.

Rob Levine said...

Here's a piece from Shamus Cooke: Billionaires Unite! Against Public Education and Teachers.

Rob Levine said...

More on the Gates Foundation and Bill Gates: The Most Dangerous Man in America.

Adam Smith said...

Even granting your points that “<span>They are for breaking up schools and creating many small schools. They are for charter schools and Teach for America,” how does that establish that Gates is for “destroying unions,” as you charged?<span>  </span>The link you now provide doesn’t support your point, either.<span>  </span><span> </span></span>
<span> </span>
<span>Your statement “As far as taking money away from teachers, well, if you pay some teachers more  based on subjective and mult-variate criteria like student's test scores, and you hold steady or reduce the total amount paid to teachers, then many teachers will get smaller saleries [sic]” contains the buried assumption that the number of teachers is held constant.<span>  </span>But the entire concept you disparage is that perhaps we discuss having larger classes taught by better teachers.<span>  </span>Poof goes your assumption.<span>  </span>(Don’t get me started on the “multi-variate” clause.<span>  </span>OK, just a little . . . <span> </span>I trust you believe your arithmetical augment holds independent of the reason used to redistribute salaries? If so, multivariate at best fluff.)</span>
<span> </span>
<span>And who adds a footnote in a discussion of public policy to “make[] an ironic jab”?<span>  </span>Footnotes are usually used to buttress arguments.<span>  </span>You used it in an attempt to cloak your argument in authority. If your argument were supported by the Times article with which you led – which it clearly wasn’t – I’d cut you some slack here.<span>  </span>But, along with the word “multi-variate,” your “ironic jab” just shows you have not put forth a reasoned argument.<span>  </span>An argument yes, just not a reasoned one.</span>

Rob Levine said...

<span>In case you hadn't noticed, most charter teachers are non-union, as are all Teach For America teachers. And there is unassailable evidence that smaller classes equals better outcomes. That's something that nearly all education scholars agree on. You want to argue about that?</span>

<span>BTW - I used the two Times pieces as a jumping off point to talk about how they led to larger issues, and obscured others. In case you don't know, that is a common writing style - I'm not writing a UN report here.</span>
<span></span><span><span> – </span>Edit</span><span><span> – </span>Moderate</span>

Adam Smith said...

Fine.  So supporting Teach for America is the same as "destroying unions"? Man, where are you at? What black-and-white world do you live in?   And I'll be happy to argue about the "unassailable evidence" if you continue to fail to support your arguments. 

You just don't support your positions.  You have opinions, but don't cloak them in footnotes that don't support your position.  Don't misstate what your references state.  That rhetoric dishonours reason and this site.  If you don't have support for your conclusions, be a man and say, "This is what I think, but I can't find support for it or there isn't support, or I can't be bothered, or everybody knows . . . ."  (Ok course, if everybody knows, why write it?)

Rob Levine said...

Well - Adam - since you appear unable to use the Internet, here you go:

Without doubt the most widely cited review is the classic Meta-analysis of research on the relationship of class size and achievement (Glass & Smith, 1978). The authors collected and summarized nearly 80 studies of the relationship of class size with academic performance that yielded over 700 class-size comparisons on data from nearly 900,000 pupils. The two primary conclusions drawn from this material are:
reduced class size can be expected to produce increased academic achievement (p. iv); and

[t]he major benefits from reduced class size are obtained as the size is reduced below 20 pupils (p. v).

As for your comment, "be a man" - what is so great about "being a man" ?? Are men somehow more responsible or brave than women?

Tell me, Adam, a little about yourself. Is that your real name, Adam Smith, or a pen name?

Rob Levine said...

Did a little more research. Almost NO ONE makes the case that small class sizes are not better for students. SOME researchers, primarily ECONOMISTS, seem to be arguing there are cases when small class size is an uneconomical way to achieve better results. There is both evidence AND theory to explain why smaller class sizes produce better results.