In a Perfect World Part Two

Meet Adam Miranda
How should Adam Miranda handle this situation in a world without unions?

Adam Miranda is very excited! He recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in Secondary Mathematics Education. Mr. Miranda was also married soon after his graduation to his high school sweetheart Marissa.

Adam was a December graduate from school so he knew that he should probably apply to be a substitute teacher in Chicago Public Schools until he could secure a position. He lands a position as a substitute for a teacher on maternity leave. He teaches two sections of Algebra One to freshmen and two sections of Geometry to sophomores. While he struggles in the beginning with the students, he eventually wins their trust. The students’ progress during his time as the teacher was more than anyone could have expected. The progress was so extraordinary; the principal offered him a full time job starting in August. Mr. Miranda was excited and eager to get started the next school year. He loved the school and the students and they were eager to have him next year in Algebra Two and Pre-Calculus.

Mr. Miranda rushed home to tell his wife that he had secured a position for the next school year. His wife told him more startling news, that she was pregnant with their first child. Mr. Miranda screamed, “This is the happiest day of my life!” He had a job, which he figured would support his wife and new baby, and the beginning of a new family. During the time leading to the end of the current year, Adam and Marissa discussed their family plans. They both decided that Marissa would stay home with the baby until it was old enough to go to school.

In Late July, Mr. Miranda was getting excited about the prospect of being a full-time teacher. He went to some of the local teacher’s stores to buy materials for his class. His parents threw him a party to celebrate his accomplishment and give him materials for his classroom. Later that week, Mr. Miranda opens the offer letter from the school that he will work at in the fall. In the letter he showed that he would be making $40,000 for the school year. Mr. Miranda was puzzled; he knew that there were first year teachers in the district that made more money. He figured it would be an easy task to ask his principal for an increase in his pay.

The next morning, he went to his school and asked to speak to the principal. Adam explained that he was very excited about the work that he was going to be doing at his school. He followed up by saying, “While, I am excited about my position, I am a little concerned about the pay. My Wife and I are having a baby in a couple of months and we decided that she should stay home with the baby. I am very concerned that we will not able to do this because my starting pay is a little low.” The principal responded, “I appreciate your concern, but after looking at our budget, this is the most that I can give you at this time. We have many other priorities, and we have to balance them. This offer is essentially non-negotiable.” Mr. Miranda thanked the principal for his time and began to think about whether he would have to work a second job or have his wife go to work after she had the baby.

Truce Mr. Obama? Hardly!:Race to the Top = Slap in the Face

Message from State Superintendent Christopher A. Koch

We have just been informed by the U.S. Department of Education that Illinois has not been selected to receive a Race to the Top grant. While this is disappointing news, I am proud of the effort that our state has made to put together such an ambitious plan, which I believe should serve as our blueprint for where we need to take education through the next decade.

I thank you for your support of Illinois students and look forward to working with you as we implement many of the elements that comprised our application. As you know, the Illinois education community worked collaboratively to form our Race to Top application, so many of the proposed changes are in statute and will occur anyway.
We still intend to develop new rigorous teacher and principal evaluation systems, as required by state law, as well as continuing our work to improve teacher and principal preparation programs.

We are still committed to developing a comprehensive longitudinal data system to assist us in better preparing students for college and careers and we are already on our way to implementing the new Illinois Learning Standards, incorporating the Common Core.
Nothing more is needed with regard to the Race to the Top at this time, however, we will be working with you as we move forward with the goals we’ve outlined for driving educational progress in Illinois.

I appreciate your passion for students and your commitment to excellence.


The second phase of “Bribery to the Top” winners were announced today, and to the dismay to many, Illinois just didn’t make it to the top. I am curious to view Illinois’ application and will be doing so soon. Chris Koch, the Illinois Superintendent, released the “warm and fuzzy” letter above after the announcement from the U.S. Department of Education.

Mr. Koch is insistent on “developing a comprehensive longitudinal data system to assist [Illinois] in better preparing students for college and careers and…implementing the new Illinois Learning Standards, incorporating the Common Core. So is Mr. Koch’s insistence based on his own personal beliefs, the advice of teachers, and the support of community members, or is it based on the potential prospect of the money from Race to the Top (RTTP). In other words, was it the chicken or the egg?

The losers of RTTP were more than just the states. Photo Courtesy:

This is an important question and has many implications for all the states that lost [and won] the Race to the Top Funds. It is the impetus for me calling Race to the Top, Bribery to the Top. Many states rushed to develop the “reforms” necessary to win Race to the Top funds only to come up short at the end. While they rushed to develop these reforms many members of the education landscapes’ voices were silenced including teachers, parents, and the infamous union leaders. How are people like Chris Koch going to mitigate the concerns from all of these people now that the prospect for the money is gone? Who is going to champion these reforms now that prospect for the money is gone? Will there be political will in place to implement the reforms now that prospect for the money is gone? For the states that won, will the money continue to be there next year and/or after Mr. Obama leaves office, or will the program be added to one of those failed “good/popular” ideas like Supplemental Education from the NCLB days? Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan have essentially threw many educational leaders “under the bus” to fend off the obviously unpopular reforms that were adopted to “win” RTTP funds. It is leaving states to fend for themselves to MAINTAIN these systems, while playing on the desperation from the recession and the historical disinvestment in public education.

Where is the Money Going to come from?

Illinois is one of many states across the country that has cut education jobs to balance their budget for the next year. This is a clear sign that there is a cash-flow problem. However, Mr. Koch is still “committed” to the heralded longitudinal data system and the creation and implementation of new standards (which include training). Where is this money supposed to come from? I assume you could probably take it from the Edujobs money.

RTTT is largely reminiscent of No Child Behind. The implementation of the requirements of NCLB came as a great cost to the states. As Diane Ravitch discusses in her book The Death and Life of the Great American School System, “some states complained that the federal government did not even give them enough money to do what the law required. Federal funding for elementary and secondary programs were increased by 60 percent in the early years of NCLB, but Democrats complained that it was way below what was needed and what Congress had authorized.” (Page 98)

Now that only eleven states and the District of Columbia is privy to the $4.35 billion from the RTTT funds, what are the other 39 states going to do to implement the RTTP reforms? Are they going to have to have their arm twisted in applying for the “School Improvement Fund” or the “Charter Schools Program?” Having cash strapped states create unfunded or under funded “reforms” is wrong and definitely from the Bush/Spellings playbook.

When Mr. Duncan and Mr. Obama are gone, the states are still going to be left to try to figure out how to add these “reforms” to their budget year after year. The amount of money that the USDOE had to work with was unprecedented for any Secretary of the Department of Education. It doesn’t hurt to mention also that the money is borrowed. Is Obama and his predecessors going to make education a principal priority with two wars, a stagnant economy, and a soon to be deficit-hawk Congress? If no, is the blame for the states inability to maintain the reforms going to be placed on states; therefore continuing the cycle of blame from the teachers to the states/districts? I believe that these questions (among others) need to be answered before I stand up and applaud for Obama/Duncan’s leadership on improving education in our country.

This is was not about Education Reform, this was about Politics

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine the other day about Race to the Top. He asked me to explain what the programme is and its purpose. After explaining to him what the ins and outs of the program were he asked me, why did the Obama Administration have to have a separate Edujobs bill to save teacher jobs? Why couldn’t he just use some of the money from Race to the Top to help save teacher jobs? My answer to him was the Edujobs bill is not about education it’s about politics. In other words, getting back in good graces with teachers and union leaders (one of Democrats’ core constituencies) leading up to the election and subsequently declaring a “truce.”

Why would I make that claim? What does the Edujobs bill tell you about RTTT? It became clear around January of this year that many of the teacher-related and education support personnel positions that were saved by Obama’s first round of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds would dry up and states would be strapped. However, the Edujobs bill was passed in August. Why did it take so long? The Department of Education and Obama had no interest in saving or helping anyone part of the “status quo” without stipulations. This was evident in his threat to veto the bill if it included taking money from RTTT. Barack Obama’s attempt to be “everyone’s president” has influenced his decisions the last eighteen months as president. Think about it. He can placate parents, civil rights leaders, and desperate states by creating “reforms,” while placating the economists and conservative (and some liberal) think tanks in the advancement of market tactics in education. With Duncan’s announcement today of the RTTT winners he emphasized his commitment to asking Congress for more money for RTTT, while many states are hoarding their EduJobs money under fear that it won’t cover through the next school year. Why is he not committed to saving teacher jobs? It has become the politically popular viewpoint to place teachers (especially the unions) in the group of bureaucrats that are hostile to any reform. There is no way that the current pseudo deficit-hawkish Congress is going to give any money to educators without stipulations especially when they are sold to be members of the “status quo.”

The second indication that it is political is the lack of stipulations placed on the EduJobs bill. While Mr. Obama has praised the bill for saving teacher jobs, many states are not doing the immediate re-hiring and the reduction in classroom sizes that was supposed to occur under the fear of being back in dire-straights again next year. Mr. President, how can you give one sum of money with an inordinate number of stipulations, but not make a fairly clean-cut stipulation like re-hire teachers part of an EduJOBS bill? It was not about education it was about politics. Selling the message of “saving teacher jobs” seems to be the politically prudent thing to do leading up to a tough election with Republicans in the midterm elections. In my opinion, there aren’t enough press conferences or supposed “truces” that would make me feel otherwise. Almost everything that President Obama has made a priority (health care, AARA, financial reform, CARD Act, etc.) has passed fairly quickly (with the exception of the health care bill.) Edujobs were not Mr. Obama’s priority; the Obama/Duncan agenda is the priority.

In any race there are going to be winners and losers. While, I don’t support many of the reforms that were required by the Obama Administration, I do believe that what has happened in this program is going to set a precedent. It is setting a precedent for twisting the arms of desperate states to adopt “reform” measures that negate all of the stakeholders in an effort to circumvent bureaucracies. It sets a precedent that similarily in the free market that there are going to be winners and losers, and that the losers just need to “try harder and do more.” It sets a precedent that education leaders not only need to be savvy in pedagogy and management, but in politics. It sets a precedent of a dangerous road for public education that is unsustainable and has many unintended but very REAL consequences.

Truce Mr. Obama? Hardly.

Stories Sell: The Jasons and Doug Covered their Eyes and Put their Fingers in their Ears, while Telling a Story

The Jasons and Doug strike again in their new edition to proving the validity of Value Added Assessment in  “LA’s Leaders in Learning” published on August 21st. As I read through the piece, I was reminded of a lesson from one of my former bosses when I was in college. I was asked to create an advertising campaign showing the benefits of financial literacy for college students. My boss told me to keep one thing in mind, “Stories sell.”

It seems that the Jasons and Doug continue to cover their ears and close their eyes to the AMPLE evidence that their project is flawed. They used their most recent article to give you more anecdotes to get the reader to ignore the facts. Photo Courtesy:

I am not sure if my boss met the Jasons and Doug, but they surely got their information from the same school of thought. The striking thing about there most recent article is that it seemed like they were trying to convince themselves of what they were saying, but I digress.

Let me tell you several stories.

There is ample evidence that the use of any “high-stakes” assessment model to retain students, sanction schools, and punish teachers has lead to the increase of cheating incidents – most recently in Atlanta. This evidence has been well documented going back to the days before value-added became a prominent area of contention among educators:

Teacher’s Caught Cheating – CBS News 2003

Analysis Shows TAKS Cheating Rampant – Dallas News 2007

Under Pressure, Teachers Tamper with Test – New York Times 2010

There is ample evidence that the use of valued-added assessments in regards to assessing teachers is still largely flawed and needs further development:

Study by Kane & Staiger, 2002 for the U.S. Department of Education

Valued-Added Assessments have estimation errors from two sources.
1. Random differences across classrooms in measured factors related to test scores including student abilities, background factors, and other student-level influences.

2. Idiosyncratic unmeasured factor that affects all students affects all students in specific classrooms (e.g. dog barking or a disruptive student), which reflects year-to-year volatility

David Cohen uses satire to drive in the errors of the Valued-Added Assessment

There has been ample evidence that shows that the use of “high-stakes” assessments and analysis models (whether its API or VAA) lead to limiting of the curriculum to the “testable” subjects/skills along with other effects to students:

Analysis of Urban Schools by Diane Chung-University of Michigan

Problems with the goals of NCLB

While these stories only cover a small portion of the mounting evidence used to evaluate high-stake tests and assessments (which what VAA would be used for), the Jasons and Doug are intent on using their stories to prove their point.

The Jasons and Doug in many ways are contradicting themselves through their own rhetoric albeit implicitly. In their most recent article, they dedicated a significant portion to scrutinizing the limitations of API or the Academic Performance Index used by California to “rank” schools in accordance to No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

“The API obscures the fact that students at Wilbur had the potential for further growth that went unrealized. Instead, they tended to slip every year while those at other esteemed schools in well-off neighborhoods made great strides. It also obscures the gains in schools in impoverished areas.”

“In elementary and middle school, the 1,000-point index is based entirely on how high students score on the state’s annual tests, given in Grades 2 through 12. According to state data, 81% of the differences among schools reflect socioeconomic factors such as poverty and parents’ education.”

Scores like API were developed and implemented partly due to NCLB. Diane Ravitch discusses the many prongs of NCLB in her most recent book The Death and Life of the Great American School System. However, one of those prongs were particularly important here:

“All public schools receiving federal funding were required to test all students in grades three through eight annually and once in high school in reading and mathematics and to disaggregate their scores by race, ethnicity, low-income status, disability status, and limited English proficiency. Disaggregation of scores would ensure that every group’s progress was monitored, not hidden in an overall average.

That last line is particularly important here. The development of API was supposed to ensure progress was monitored. The monitoring of the progress was supposed to cut across the various population groups. In other words, this was an attempt to “control” for the outside circumstances that a student may deal with during and after school. To the Jasons and Doug’s own admission that is not what API has done.

“But even those who designed the API more than a decade ago…. recommended measuring student progress as soon as possible.”

“The superiority of looking at student growth was recognized from the very beginning,” said Ed Haertel, a Stanford professor and testing expert who helped develop the API for the state. “It’s much more sensitive and accurate than the current system.”

But California, like most states, isn’t doing it.”

They suggest on their “More on the Value-Added Method” page that “[v]alue-added measures individual students’ year-to-year growth. The API compares the achievement level of one year’s students with those in the same grade the previous year. Experts say both are important and tell parents different things about a school.” The question that comes to my mind is how is a parent supposed to choose which one is more important API or VAA?

This is the issue I am having with the entire LA Times “study” on education. I often get the image of a small child closing their eyes and putting their fingers in their ears. Despite the fact that API was all the rage almost ten-years ago and it is shown (even by their own analysis) that it has problems and limitations, they insist on using a new “trendy” statistical model for evaluating schools and teachers. It is clear that there is NO evidence that VAA will help close the achievement gap for the various populations that were “tackled” in the development of the first statistical model. However the use of stories about Wilbur Elementary School “starting out as high achievers but [losing] ground on state standardized tests” is supposed to convince us otherwise. Maybe they will use the story of Maywood Elementary and the high population of students on free/reduced lunch improving the most. Either way, the LA Times study is a disingenuous attempt to improve education and is offering convoluted and inflammatory rhetoric about teachers and schools under the guise that empiricism will save the day. Unfortunately in this case, the “facts” that the Jasons and Doug are using has done nothing but make the misinformation about the nature of schooling, teaching, leadership, and testing more prevalent.

It was issues like this that I wanted (and I am sure others wanted) to discuss in their “chat” last Thursday. However, they circumvented the concerns of many in order to replace it with tired rhetoric and ambiguous statements.

Unfortunately, they still haven’t changed since the “chat.” In the most recent article they said, “The approach generally doesn’t penalize schools for things beyond their control.” I generally don’t eat fish (because I am a vegetarian) but if there is nothing else available I will. Marriages are generally perceived as a life long commitment, but people get divorced.

I really hope that their true intentions surface as a result of this project.

Battle Lines: Edujobs v Teacher Job Leverage

Rick Hess Straight Up Blog on Education Week

Today, as I did my usual morning reading of the education news of the day I ran across this blog on the EdWeek blog site by Rick Hess called “Straight Talk”. Mr. Hess used this blog piece to discuss how the Edujobs bill was harmful and wasteful. I was enraged at large parts of this post, which prompted my to draw some Battle Lines.

Mr. Hess began his piece by claming that “for more than a half century, we’ve spent more dollars on K-12 schooling each year than we did the year before. The problem with this is that no one makes tough choices in flush times.” There are a couple of issues with his claim whether or not it is empirically correct. During the time period that Mr. Hess mentioned that there has been an increase in spending on K-12 schooling there has also been an increase in the amount of students being educated. The increase in student spending comes from the obvious increase in population, but it also comes from federal mandates to educate students of colour, students with disabilities, and students who speak English as a second language. A federal mandate was only necessary due to the fact that these groups had not been given the education investments in the past. The addition of these populations on the educational landscape prompted research for intervention methods and tools to help accommodate these new population groups. Even after all of these years, educators still struggle with English Language Learners, Special Education students, and students of colour. Using the empirical “[spending] more dollars on K-12 schooling each year than we did the year before” is a disingenuous argument even for Rick Hess, which is void of an historical conceptualization of why there has been the increase in K-12 spending.

I agree with Mr. Hess in his argument that K-12 school districts and superintendents need to reassess the programs and the money being devoted to it. Additionally, I believe he was correct in his assertion that “[even] if you’re a tough-minded for-profit CEO or a cuddly koala of a non-profit executive; nobody is eager to squeeze salaries, shut down inefficient programs, seek out savings, or trim employees when they can avoid it [and] a manager who tries when times are good is just a mean-spirited S.O.B. who alienates staff and creates disruptions.” However trying to align K-12 schools on the same playing field as a for-profit or even a non-profit organization is misguided, and it is that type of thinking that has led to the privatization of public schools, the adoption of corporate tactics, and the view that schools are businesses. The Edujobs wasn’t a bill for a particular district, a particular state, or particular school. The Edujobs bill was developed to address an INDUSTRY problem. Using the recession as leverage for advancing any agenda is just plain wrong. Education administrators should not be trying to use the “path of least resistance” to make changes that affects teachers, parents, students, and the community. This is what makes Race to the Top problematic. Race to the Top is using state deficits as leverage to push an agenda. Whether or not someone agrees or disagrees with the agenda, it should be left to the stakeholders in conjunction with the superintendents to make that decision and not just be labelled as perpetuators of the “status quo.”

Barney Frank clearly articulates my issue with the notion of “efficiency-hungry organizations.” “But it is clear that left entirely untouched by public policy, the capitalist system will produce more inequality than is socially healthy or than is necessary for maximum efficiency.” Mr. Hess’ unfounded argument that schools have taken part in a “lethargy that takes root in bloated bureaucracies” is the same tired rhetoric that many people who favour privatization or the adoption of business or “market” tactics in education. While the “market” has garnered many successes and failures in the past (in booms and busts –including the most recent recession) “the market purports to possess divine attributes that are not always completely evident to mortals but must be trusted and affirmed by faith.” (Ideology and Education, Smith, pg. 1). In that vein, Mr. Hess argues “the series of edu-bailouts has made it harder for state chiefs or superintendents inclined to stand up and try to address this trend (lethargy). Visions of free money–especially free money targeted for “job preservation”–makes anyone looking to squeeze payrolls look like a surly killjoy.” Again, I do believe that district expenses need to be re-examined but most superintendents are elected. Therefore the superintendent is accountable to the people they serve and not just the balance sheets, the city, or the federal government. It is only in the most “martketized” school districts do the mayor appoint the superintendent to make those decisions that Mr. Hess is purporting is being stifled by this bill. “If a supe knows that plumping the payroll is going to make things worse next year [and] lock in new benefit commitments” is just plain irresponsible and that supe needs to held accountable.

I am glad that Barack Obama finally showed the leadership on education that he campaigned on during his election (e.g. on the sides of the teacher, community members, parents, students, and UNIONS). Many may read my response and disagree with my arguments. I hope we can all agree on the fact that it would be contradictory for the Obama Administration to want to make us number one on the globe for education, but use its teachers as leverage.

So TEACHERS enjoy your jobs, enjoy your work, and in the words of Richard Hess “Gee, I hope [you[ really enjoy that $10 billion.”