Mike Rose Asks For Reason Instead Of Shiny Things

Mike Rose has 14 resolutions he would like to see from reformers in 2011. Here is reason resolution number 12:
12) To have education pundits check their tendency to resort to the quip, the catchy one-liner. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll give an extended example. I believe it was Hoover Institute economist Eric A. Hanushek who observed that if we simply got rid of the bottom 10% of teachers (as determined by test scores) and replaced them with teachers at the top 10% we’d erase the achievement gap, or leap way up the list on international comparisons, or some such. His observation got picked up by a number of commentators. It is one of those “smartest kids in the class” kinds of statements, at first striking but on reflection not very substantial.

Think for a moment. There are many factors that affect student academic performance, and the largest is parental income – so canning the bottom 10 percent won’t erase all the barriers to achievement. Furthermore, what exactly is this statement’s purpose? It seems to be a suggestion for policy. So let’s play it out. There are about 3½ million teachers out there. Ten percent is 350,000. As a policy move, how do you fire 350,000 people without creating overwhelming administrative and legal havoc, and where do you quickly find the stellar 350,000 to replace them? Also, since the removal of that bottom 10 percent one year creates a new 10 percent the next (I think Richard Rothstein also made this point), do we repeat the process annually?

It is this kind of quip that zips through the chattering classes, but really is a linguistic bright, shining object that distracts us from the real work of improving our schools.

Saturday Cartoon Fun: It's Different Edition


TFT And Others Will Be On Blog Talk Radio Friday Evening, Updated, Again

This Friday, January 7th at 9pm (EST) 11pm (EST--that's 7pm 8pm in California), Bronx Teacher, The Total Tutor, Larry Sand, A Conservative Teacher and I will be on Blog Talk Radio on Neil Haley's Total Tutor Show discussing, well, education.

Neil has tried to get 2 sides--liberals and conservatives--to come together to see how close or far apart we are from each other in our perspectives on education reform.

I am pretty sure the conservative guys are union haters. Not sure if they are Rhee lovers, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Tune in! 6pm 8pm on the West Coast, 9pm 11pm on the East Coast, Friday evening.  Be there.  Listen and send me link references as ammo.

Update: It was a good show, except for some brief echoes in 2 small spots. Who won? That's up to you. I think the right--Larry and CT--put up straw man after red herring, while we--SoBronx and me--made perfect sense, using only facts.

Place your vote for who won in comments. Vote for right or left.

Thursday Bonus Cartoon Bonus Fun: WWSCS Edition

Thursday Bonus Cartoon Fun: And So It Begins Edition

Thursday Cartoon Fun: The Rooster Edition


Bob Reich On Benefits, Pay, And How Republicans Are Basically Assholes

The Shameful Attack on Public Employees


In 1968, 1,300 sanitation workers in Memphis went on strike. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to support them. That was where he lost his life. Eventually Memphis heard the grievances of its sanitation workers. And in subsequent years millions of public employees across the nation have benefited from the job protections they’ve earned.

But now the right is going after public employees.

Public servants are convenient scapegoats. Republicans would rather deflect attention from corporate executive pay that continues to rise as corporate profits soar, even as corporations refuse to hire more workers. They don’t want stories about Wall Street bonuses, now higher than before taxpayers bailed out the Street. And they’d like to avoid a spotlight on the billions raked in by hedge-fund and private-equity managers whose income is treated as capital gains and subject to only a 15 percent tax, due to a loophole in the tax laws designed specifically for them.

It’s far more convenient to go after people who are doing the public’s work - sanitation workers, police officers, fire fighters, teachers, social workers, federal employees – to call them “faceless bureaucrats” and portray them as hooligans who are making off with your money and crippling federal and state budgets. The story fits better with the Republican’s Big Lie that our problems are due to a government that’s too big.

Above all, Republicans don’t want to have to justify continued tax cuts for the rich. As quietly as possible, they want to make them permanent.

But the right’s argument is shot-through with bad data, twisted evidence, and unsupported assertions.

They say public employees earn far more than private-sector workers. That’s untrue when you take account of level of education. Matched by education, public sector workers actually earn less than their private-sector counterparts.

The Republican trick is to compare apples with oranges — the average wage of public employees with the average wage of all private-sector employees. But only 23 percent of private-sector employees have college degrees; 48 percent of government workers do. Teachers, social workers, public lawyers who bring companies to justice, government accountants who try to make sure money is spent as it should be - all need at least four years of college.

Compare apples to apples and and you’d see that over the last fifteen years the pay of public sector workers has dropped relative to private-sector employees with the same level of education. Public sector workers now earn 11 percent less than comparable workers in the private sector, and local workers 12 percent less. (Even if you include health and retirement benefits, government employees still earn less than their private-sector counterparts with similar educations.)

Here’s another whopper. Republicans say public-sector pensions are crippling the nation. They say politicians have given in to the demands of public unions who want only to fatten their members’ retirement benefits without the public noticing. They charge that public-employee pensions obligations are out of control.

Some reforms do need to be made. Loopholes that allow public sector workers to “spike” their final salaries in order to get higher annuities must be closed. And no retired public employee should be allowed to “double dip,” collecting more than one public pension.

But these are the exceptions. Most public employees don’t have generous pensions. After a career with annual pay averaging less than $45,000, the typical newly-retired public employee receives a pension of $19,000 a year. Few would call that overly generous.

And most of that $19,000 isn’t even on taxpayers’ shoulders. While they’re working, most public employees contribute a portion of their salaries into their pension plans. Taxpayers are directly responsible for only about 14 percent of public retirement benefits. Remember also that many public workers aren’t covered by Social Security, so the government isn’t contributing 6.25 of their pay into the Social Security fund as private employers would.

Yes, there’s cause for concern about unfunded pension liabilities in future years. They’re way too big. But it’s much the same in the private sector. The main reason for underfunded pensions in both public and private sectors is investment losses that occurred during the Great Recession. Before then, public pension funds had an average of 86 percent of all the assets they needed to pay future benefits — better than many private pension plans.

The solution is no less to slash public pensions than it is to slash private ones. It’s for all employers to fully fund their pension plans.

The final Republican canard is that bargaining rights for public employees have caused state deficits to explode. In fact there’s no relationship between states whose employees have bargaining rights and states with big deficits. Some states that deny their employees bargaining rights - Nevada, North Carolina, and Arizona, for example, are running giant deficits of over 30 percent of spending. Many that give employees bargaining rights — Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Montana — have small deficits of less than 10 percent.

Public employees should have the right to bargain for better wages and working conditions, just like all employees do. They shouldn’t have the right to strike if striking would imperil the public, but they should at least have a voice. They often know more about whether public programs are working, or how to make them work better, than political appointees who hold their offices for only a few years.

Don’t get me wrong. When times are tough, public employees should have to make the same sacrifices as everyone else. And they are right now. Pay has been frozen for federal workers, and for many state workers across the country as well.

But isn’t it curious that when it comes to sacrifice, Republicans don’t include the richest people in America? To the contrary, they insist the rich should sacrifice even less, enjoying even larger tax cuts that expand public-sector deficits. That means fewer public services, and even more pressure on the wages and benefits of public employees.

It’s only average workers – both in the public and the private sectors – who are being called upon to sacrifice.

This is what the current Republican attack on public-sector workers is really all about. Their version of class warfare is to pit private-sector workers against public servants. They’d rather set average working people against one another – comparing one group’s modest incomes and benefits with another group’s modest incomes and benefits – than have Americans see that the top 1 percent is now raking in a bigger share of national income than at any time since 1928, and paying at a lower tax rate. And Republicans would rather you didn’t know they want to cut taxes on the rich even more.

Wednesday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Waste, Fraud, Or Abuse Edition

Wednesday Cartoon Fun: Bonk, Bonk Edition

Official Report: BP Totally Screwed Up. They Could Have Avoided Spill

From the BBC
Specific risks the report identifies include:
  • A flawed design for the cement used to seal the bottom of the well
  • A test of that seal identified problems but was "incorrectly judged a success"
  • The workers' failure to recognise the first signs of the impending blow-out
The conclusions run counter to industry efforts to portray the Deepwater Horizon disaster as a rare occurence, as oil companies prod the US government to open greater areas of the US coast to oil exploration.

"The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again," the report read.

"Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur."
And we have apparently begun off-shore drilling again without any of the recommended protections.


In Education, Poverty Is The Un-Equalizer

My methodology was to research the 10 wealthiest communities in California based on per capita income. They were:

Belvedere, Marin County113,595
Rancho Santa Fe, San Diego County113,132
Atherton, San Mateo County112,408
Rolling Hills, Los Angeles County111,031
Woodside, San Mateo County104,667
Portola Valley, San Mateo County99,621
Newport Coast, Orange County98,770
Hillsborough, San Mateo County98,643
Diablo, Contra Costa County95,419
Fairbanks Ranch, San Diego County94,150

Figures from Census, 2000

Using the greatschools.net website, I located all the public schools located within the attendance boundaries of these areas, and double checked their free and reduced price population, a national measure of economic status, to verify that they did indeed serve an affluent population.

Finding: there was not a single, failing, public school located in the wealthiest communities. In fact, the wealthiest communities produced schools with the highest possible score, a 10, in the GreatSchools rating system. [emphasis mine]

The charts below show the scores on a scale of 1-10, with 10 representing the highest academic achievement score, of the public schools located in these affluent areas.

From Martha Infante, History Teacher in Los Angeles, Former Teacher of the Year

Arne Duncan Claims More Untruths

Stephen Krashen makes 3 points in rebuttal to Arne's article today [I will give you #1]:
1. Response to Arne Duncan’s claim that his policies succeed in overcoming poverty:

Duncan states that schools and their "local partners" are "overcoming poverty" by "investing in teachers, rebuilding school staff, lengthening the school day and changing curricula."

I know of no evidence that this is so. Rather, the research indicates that there are very few high-performing schools in high poverty conditions. Also, to my knowledge, no detailed studies have emerged with descriptions of rebuilt schools with longer days showing consistent, startling progress.

There have been occasional media reports (e.g. Felch, Song and Poindexter, 2010), but these cases of improvement are sketchy. It is not clear whether scores are being pumped up by test prep or are the result of genuine teaching and learning.

The lack of comparison groups makes it impossible to dismiss the possibility that all students in the district are getting better, possibly due to the introduction of new tests and "test inflation," improvement due to greater familiarity with the test. Gerald Bracey (2009) reported that one highly publicized "success story" published in The New York Times about the Harvard Promise Academy, was true only for one grade, one subject and for one year.

Duncan gives the impression that "overcoming poverty" happens all the time under his administration. There is no real evidence that it happens at all.
Stephen Krashen


Wear Red 4 Ed on Tuesday, January 4

Wear Red For Ed
This Tuesday, January 4, 2011, teachers, parents, students, and all other types of Americans who support the nations' public education system will be wearing red. The idea originated with teachers in Florida who are upset with some of the current reforms that the state's soon-to-be governor Rick Scott wants to implement. Some of the ideas Scott has may even violate Florida's state constitution.

In order to show their disapproval of Scott and his reform methods but, more importantly, to show their support for public education, Florida teachers chose Tuesday as the day to wear red because this is the day Scott will be inaugurated.

The idea caught on quickly across Florida, and was turned into a national event in a showing of solidarity. The public education system--and especially teachers--has been the recipient of harsh criticism lately, with most of it being unfair and some of it being untrue. However, most of those hurling the criticism at public education have never worked in the system and don't understand the real problems that public education faces such as a lack of fair funding, the inequity that exists between school districts, and an over-emphasis on standardized tests.

While wearing red on Tuesday won't solve any of the real problems facing public education, it will show that there are plenty of us out there who support public education, have an opinion about public education, and want our voices to be heard regarding public education. Hopefully this will be the first step in the long overdue process of letting those who are actually involved first-hand in America's public education system--teachers, parents, and students--have a say in what happens to it.

To help spread the word, people are being asked to change their Facebook profile picture to the image above and are being asked to Tweet about the event with the hashtag #WearRedForEd [and RSVP at the Facebook Page]. Of course good old-fashioned word of mouth is always acceptable too!

I've Been Meaning To Post...

But I haven't, until now.

Over the break my son went away for a week, giving me ample time to re-arrange the house. You see, I needed to take a table and shelf from his room, and he wouldn't have liked it if I did while he was here. It made his room feel much bigger, and when he got home yesterday he mentioned how much he likes the new room configuration! Parents always know. Well, not really. Whatever.

I was thinking about work, teaching, unions, the current zeitgeist, school reform, the economy, racism, teabaggism, and other isms. As I thought I realized something--Americans work too hard.

Yup, we work too hard for too little. We work 8-10 hour days, most of us, with no time to live. We have to eat fast food because our schedules are packed. We miss our kid's school stuff because we can't take time off to raise our kids. We worry constantly about getting fired or laid off only to lose our health insurance and risk illness that can't be cured with bankruptcy. And all our work makes someone else rich, often at our expense. That sucks.

Why do we do it? The rich get richer and the rest of us get poorer. The rich own nearly everything, and we own nearly nothing. Why do we put up with it?

I wish every worker could make lunch at work. You know, a yummy, hot, nutritious lunch that we could eat leisurely. Wouldn't that be nice? And while we eat we could talk to one another. Maybe we could even grow to tolerate and care for each other. I don't know, but it seems life should be for living, not working. Work to live, not live to work.

America is pretty screwed up. But not because of most of us, rather, because of a few of us who are greedy beyond all comprehension.

Eat the rich.

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