The No-Stats All Star Retires

June 18, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Shane Battier, the man dubbed by Michael Lewis as the No-Stats All Star- has announced his retirement from the NBA at age 35 to take a college basketball analyst position with ESPN.  Battier never looked like much on the stat-sheet but when the statisticians got around to crunching the NBA they discovered that all he does is little things-like help his team win basketball games.  Battier-type “White Space” employees raise important questions about how to approach employee evaluation including teachers.

John White and I spoke on a panel together a few years ago and the topic of evaluation came up.  I sounded a note of caution but Superintendent White saw my bet and raised me by opining that we were in danger of making a fetish out of value added scores and that ultimately we should rely upon the professional judgement of administrators informed by data rather than merely the data itself. At least that is how I interpreted what White said, and if so, I agree with him.

Greg has been saying all along that ultimately this system requires choice.  Give parents meaningful choice, let Principals hire their own teams, have Superintendents evaluate Principals on the basis of the health of their school.  This strikes me as not only as the best way to do teacher eval, but also the only way to create a system to recognize the value of woefully under-appreciated highly effective instructors.  To choose another sports analogy developed by Michael Lewis, the pay of Left-Tackles took off after the advent of free-agency in the NFL.  Once a true market for players had been established, guys who had the skills to block a Lawrence Taylor found themselves in high demand, whereas the old system kept their compensation under wraps.

There are only a few states where we might be inching towards meaningful levels of parental choice, probably fewer still if any where the school leader has anything approaching a free hand to choose their own team. Mechanistic programs that attempt to identify and reward and remove instructors will be better than a unconditional tenure and dance of the lemons system but will never match a system in which trained professionals with healthy incentives exercise professional discretion. The Heat for instance hired Battier because they understood that there is a great deal more going on than the stat sheet, and won a couple of championships.

The primordial soup is slowwwwly starting to bubble…

Now imagine a burnt out and disgruntled Charles Barkley riding the bench of the Heat as a player in 2014 drawing a bigger salary than LeBron because the coaches can’t make best use of their salary cap…


Vergara vs. California

June 10, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Read the decision here.  I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on tv, so I will leave the legal analysis to others.  Two things seem obvious: an appeal of this decision is inevitable, and second this type of lawsuit will be emulated in other states- many other states.  The conclusion of this will doubtlessly take years to reach but this may prove to be a decisive turning point on teacher quality issues.  If it proves decisive it will be more like Midway than Waterloo, but reading through the decision gives you the feeling of a decisive turning point having been reached.

Reading through the decision also reveals just how deeply discredited practices like unconditional tenure and LIFO have become. The limits to the National Education Association’s attempt to muddy the water on research through “rent-a-reactionary critiques” of the groundbreaking research on teacher impacts seem completely exposed as well. It is much harder to pull the wool over the eyes of a discerning judge than an education reporter on deadline.

The courts often prove to be a lagging indicator in the war of ideas.  This war is far from over but congratulations to the team who fought this battle.


What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Rawls and Understanding Update on RedefinED

November 11, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I updated the “forced reincarnation with the chance to pick your state” thought experiment with NAEP 2013 data over at RedefinED.

Bonus Elvis C:


Chicago: 1,756 teacher layoffs in two months

July 19, 2013

(Guest Post by Collin Hitt)

Chicago Public Schools announced layoffs yesterday of more than 2,000 employees. From the Chicago Tribune:

About half of the 1,036 teachers being let go are tenured. The latest layoffs, which also include 1,077 school staff members, are in addition to 855 employees — including 420 teachers — who were laid off last month as a result of the district’s decision to close 49 elementary schools and a high school program.

Yesterday was a rough day in Chicago. City government is heading into a financial tailspin. The city’s bond rating received a triple-downgrade from Moody’s. The district’s finances aren’t any better. It will be impossible for the district or the city to borrow enough money to patch their budgets. And with every other taxing entity in Chicago running in the red, the ability of CPS to hike taxes will be limited.

The district is blaming the layoffs on its ongoing pension funding crisis. As the Illinois Policy Institute was pointing out two years ago, the district’s retirement costs were set to quadruple to more than $800 million between 2012 and 2014..

Benefit reforms could have softened this blow. Look at Milwaukee schools, the subject of a recent Fordham Foundation report by my colleague Bob Costrell and Larry Maloney. The district was able to dramatically lower its retirement costs thanks to reforms spearheaded by Scott Walker, who is despised in Illinois Democratic circles. From the Wisconsin Reporter:

Instead of retiree costs rising by $1,652 per pupil, to a total of $3,512 per student, Costrell and Maloney now project an increase of $64 per pupil, to a total of $1,924 per student.”

That works out to about $110 million annually in savings, or about 10 percent of MPS’s current budget.

And the study projects Act 10, loathed by public-sector unions, will save more than 1,000 jobs, or about 25 percent of MPS teaching positions, by the year 2020.

The Chicago Teachers Union has successfully fought to leave benefits unchanged. The most recent collective bargaining agreement in Chicago, settled after a weeklong strike, gave generous raises and made no major changes to benefit costs. It was a financial suicide pact. Had the district won flexibility to reduce pay or benefits in the face of cash shortfalls, many of yesterday’s laid-off teachers would still have their jobs.

The layoffs in Chicago are going to be painful for a lot of good people. But, as Jay pointed out last fall after the CTU strike, this day was predictable. And this mass round of layoffs may usher in Chicago’s iteration of “real” merit pay:

When Chicago closes a traditional public school for low enrollment the teachers are laid off.  The new contract appears to place some limits on this, but the practice has generally been preserved.  In addition, unlike in some other big cities, principals in Chicago are free to hire teachers as they see fit and are not forced to take teachers laid off from school closures.  The new contract does require that half of all newly hired teachers come from those laid off and guarantees re-hiring only for the highest rated teachers, but according to the city’s summary of the agreement: “Principals maintain full authority to hire whichever teacher they deem best.”

The net effect of growing charter schools, closing under-enrolled traditional public schools, and only hiring back the best and most desired teachers from those schools is a true merit pay system.  Bad teachers are let go.  Good teachers not only get their job back, but they also get an extremely generous pay raise over the next four years for staying and being good.  That’s real merit pay.


Scandal! Big Education Conference Subordinates Education to PROFIT!

May 22, 2013

money-greedy1

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Kudos to ALELR for this shocking expose – a major education conference is trying to destroy our schools by subordinating education to greedy profiteering BUSINESSES!


Louisiana Union Pres: School Choice Steals “Our” Kids

May 1, 2013

the daily spin(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Remember the hoopla a few weeks back about the MSNBC promo that told us our children aren’t really ours? Well, in case you were wondering whose they were, the president of the Louisiana teachers’ union spells it out for you:

There isn’t anything fair about using something like [school choice] only against the public schools and then taking our children from us, and sending us where we don’t know what they’re getting. [ea]

Mocking her is left as an exercise for the reader.

I’m starting to get worried. The unions are still powerful because they have money and troops, but they’re now totally humiliated and publicly shamed for their evil, and they’re clearly lost and bewildered in a new social world where the rules of legitimacy have all changed and they can’t make sense of anything. At what point is it just cruel to go on pointing out their depravity?


Weingarten/Ravitch v. Tooley/Dixon in Mexico

April 23, 2013

WSJ striking teachers in Mexico

Now THAT”S what I call an army of angry teachers!

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Today’s Wall Street Journal covers events in Guerrero, a state in southern Mexico, where the local version of the Weingarten/Ravitch army of angry teachers is now in head-to-head competition with James Tooley and Pauline Dixon’s army of black market schoolers.

In one corner:

Thousands of teachers protesting a revamp of the country’s education system have closed schools and taken to the streets, in the first significant challenge to overhauls undertaken by President Enrique Peña Nieto. Teachers in Guerrero, one of Mexico’s poorest states, are defying Mr. Peña Nieto’s administration by opposing the education measure signed into law in February, which for the first time requires teachers to be evaluated by an autonomous body. Those that fail the evaluation can be dismissed.

Last week, tens of thousands of teachers, some armed with metal bars and Molotov cocktails, marched in Guerrero’s capital, Chilpancingo. They again blocked for hours the highway that connects Mexico City with the Pacific port of Acapulco, hurting a key economic and tourist hub. The demonstrations have been held sporadically since the overhaul bill was signed.

In the other corner:

The action has left around 42,000 children without classes, and parents, exasperated after almost two months of protests, plan to start giving their own lessons in parks, public squares and even restaurants in the coming days….The lessons would be conducted like summer-school workshops, with hundreds of children expected to attend the first classes, Mr. Castro said. The idea is to teach grade-school students mathematics, Spanish and other basics, and the parents association is trying to get local education authorities to give credit for completed work.

The teachers’ unions of Guerrero have shown the same peaceful spirit we’ve seen so often from many labor unions here in the U.S.:

Initial plans to start the lessons Monday were put off for fear of reprisals from striking teachers, and the parents association is working with state authorities to guarantee safety for the classes, he added.

However, from the overall coverage I wouldn’t count the army of black market schoolers out yet. Conditions are bad enough that the parents are angrier than the teachers.

Also worth noting: it’s not clear how many of the teachers support what their unions are doing.

Photo by Zuma Press via WSJ


US Teacher Unions Need to Close the Global Union Corruption Gap

February 27, 2013

The head of Mexico’s teacher union, Elba Esther Gordillo, has been arrested by authorities “on charges of embezzling $200 million.”  She only officially earned $90,000, but still managed to run up about $3 million in charges at Nieman Marcus, another million for property in San Diego, several hundred thousand to an art gallery, endless rounds of plastic surgery (yikes!), etc

It now appears that there is another global comparison on which the US is lagging way behind other countries.  Yes, our teacher unions have folks like Paul Egan, the New York union honcho and testing cheater whose alcohol-fueled tizzy over portion sizes at a swank Albany restaurant caused him to be arrested and led us to advise him that “Fat, Drunk, and Stupid is No Way to Go Through Life, Son.”  And we have “longtime Broward (Fla.) Teachers Union president Tony Gentile admitt[ing]… that he arranged for a sexual tryst with an Internet pal he thought was a 14-year-old girl.”  And also in South Florida, “The longtime leader of the Miami-Dade County teacher’s union pleaded guilty… in a deal after a public corruption task force found he fraudulently charged the organization for up to $650,000 in personal expenses for cruises, vacations and other luxuries.

Is that the best our corrupt teacher union leaders can do?  Just $650,000?  Mexican teacher union leaders can skim off a cool $200 million.  Even all of the abuses cataloged by the vanishing breed of education investigative reports,  Scott Reeder or Mike Antonucci, pale in comparison to Ms. Gordillo… or, as she was known in Mexico, The Teacher.  I suppose that overly-generous and ill-funded teacher pensions begin to approach the scale of malfeasance achieved in Mexico, but that union-directed financial extraction spreads its largess over millions of teachers.  In Mexico a single teacher union boss managed to grab $200 million for herself.  I highly doubt that Randi Weingarten is up to that challenge.

What we have here is a Global Union Corruption Gap.  Maybe we need to draft some cue cards for politicians so they can begin to address this problem with their steakholders.

[Correction -- Paul Egan wasn't actually arrested.  The restaurant called the police because Egan was unruly and refused to pay the bill.  The police ordered Egan to pay.  Jeesh!  Our union bosses even lag behind their colleagues in Mexico on getting arrested!]


Chingos and West on Florida’s Pension Reforms

February 21, 2013

Matt Chingos and Marty West have a new paper published by Fordham examining pension reforms in Florida.  Specifically, Florida offered its new teachers the option of choosing between a defined benefit and a defined contribution retirement plan.  The defined benefit plan is the type most commonly found for teachers and defined contribution is more commonly found for private sector workers.

Defined benefit plans have some unusual characteristics that may push some teachers out of the workforce before they really should leave and may keep others as teachers longer than they should.  These defined benefit plans also reward long-serving and immobile teachers at the expense of shorter-serving and more mobile teachers, like those most commonly found in charter schools.  And defined benefit plans shift all of the risk for achieving sufficient investment returns to the government, which given recently weak investment returns, government under-funding of plans, and overly generous promised benefits is putting many states in serious financial trouble.

So states like Florida are considering shifting more teachers to defined contribution plans, which are more like 401k plans where the employer and employee each contribute money to an investment account and then the employee bears the risk of investment returns.

Matt and Marty addressed four questions in their study: 1) What portion of new teachers have chosen the defined contribution (DC) option? 2) What kinds of new teachers were more likely to make that selection? 3) Did the teachers who chose DC more likely to be effective teachers? and 4) Is there a difference in attrition between new teachers who choose DC or defined benefits (DB)?

The quick answers are 1) Between a quarter and a third of new teachers chose DC.  This is a surprisingly large share choosing DC, especially given that DB was the default option.  2) Teachers with more advanced degrees and degrees in math and science (presumably those with the most attractive options outside of teaching) were more likely to choose DC.  3) There was relatively little relationship between whether a teacher chose DC and their later effectiveness as measured by value-added scores. 4) New teachers who chose DC were more likely to leave their teaching positions.

Check out the full report to see all the details.


Shanker Institute Scholar Bounded in a Nutshell but Counts Himself a King of Infinite Space

January 15, 2013

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Matthew DiCarlo of the Shanker Institute has taken to reviewing the statistical evidence on the Florida K-12 reforms. DiCarlo reaches the conclusion that we ultimately can’t draw much in the way of conclusions regarding aggregate movement of scores.  He’s rather emphatic on the point:

In the meantime, regardless of one’s opinion on whether the “Florida formula” is a success and/or should be exported to other states, the assertion that the reforms are responsible for the state’s increases in NAEP scores and FCAT proficiency rates during the late 1990s and 2000s not only violates basic principles of policy analysis, but it is also, at best, implausible. The reforms’ estimated effects, if any, tend to be quite small, and most of them are, by design, targeted at subgroups (e.g., the “lowest-performing” students and schools). Thus, even large impacts are no guarantee to show up at the aggregate statewide level (see the papers and reviews in the first footnote for more discussion).

DiCarlo obviously has formal training in the statistical dark arts, and the vast majority of academics involved in policy analysis would probably agree with his point of view. What he lacks however is an appreciation of the limitations of social science.

Social scientists are quite rightly obsessed with issues of causality. Statistical training quickly reveals to the student that people are constantly making ad-hoc theories about some X resulting in some Y without much proof. Life abounds with half-baked models of reality and incomplete understandings of phenomena, which have a consistent and nasty habit of proving quite complex.

Social scientists have developed powerful statistical methods to attempt to establish causality techniques like random assignment and regression discontinuity can illuminate issues of causality. These types of studies can bring great value, but it is important to understand their limitations.

DiCarlo for instance reviews the literature on the impact of school choice in Florida. Random assignment school choice studies have consistently found modest but statistically significant test score gains for participating students. Some react to these studies with a bored “meh.” DiCarlo helps himself along in reaching this conclusion by citing some non-random assignment studies. More problematically, he fails to understand the limitations of even the best studies.

For example, even the very best random assignment school choice studies fall apart after a few short years. Students don’t live in social science laboratories but rather in the real world. Random lotteries can divide students into nearly identical groups with the main difference being that one group applied for but did not get to attend a charter or private school. They cannot however stop students in the control group from moving around.

Despite the best efforts of researchers, attrition immediately begins to degrade control groups in random assignment studies. Usually after three years, they are spent. Those seeking a definitive answer on the long-term impact of school choice on student test scores are in for disappointment. Social science has very real limits, and in this case, is only suggestive. Choice students tend to make small but cumulative gains year by year which tend to become statistically significant around year three, which is right around when the random assignment design falls apart. What’s the long-term impact? I’d like to know too, but it is beyond the power of social science to tell us, leading us to look for evidence from persistence rates.

So let’s get back to DiCarlo, who wrote “The reforms’ estimated effects, if any, tend to be quite small, and most of them are, by design, targeted at subgroups (e.g., the “lowest-performing” students and schools). Thus, even large impacts are no guarantee to show up at the aggregate statewide level.”  This is true but fails to recognize the poverty of the social science approach itself.

DiCarlo mentions that “even large impacts are no guarantee to show up at the aggregate statewide level.” This is a reference to the “ecological fallacy” which teaches us to employ extreme caution when travelling between the level of individual and aggregate level data. Read the above link if you want to know all the brutally geeky reasons why this is the case, take my word for it if you don’t.

DiCarlo is correct that connecting the individual level data (e.g. the studies he cites) to aggregate level gains is a dicey business. He however fails to appreciate the limitations of the studies he cites and the fact that the ecological fallacy problem cuts both ways. In other words, while generally positive, we simply don’t know the relationship between individual policies and aggregate gains.

We know for instance that we have a positive study on alternative certification and student learning gains. We do not and essentially cannot know however how many if any NAEP point gains resulted from this policy. The proper reaction for a practical person interested in larger student learning gains should be summarized as “who cares?” The evidence we have indicates that the students who had alternatively certified teacher made larger learning gains. Given the lack of any positive evidence associated with teacher certification, that’s going to be enough for most fair minded people.

FCAT 1

The individual impact of particular policies on gains in Florida is not clear. What is crystal clear however is the fact that there were aggregate level gains in Florida. You don’t require a random assignment study or a regression equation, for instance when considering the percentage of FCAT 1 reading scores (aka illiterate) above. When you see the percentage of African American students scoring at the lowest of five achievement levels drop from 41% to 26% on a test with consistent standards, it is little wonder why policymakers around the country have emulated the policy, despite DiCarlo’s skepticism.

I could go on and bomb you with charts showing improving graduation rates, NAEP scores, Advance Placement passing rates, etc. but I’ll spare you. The point is that there are very clear signs of aggregate level improvement in Florida, and also a large number of studies at the individual level showing positive results from individual policies.

The individual level results do not “prove” that the reforms caused the aggregate level gains. DiCarlo’s problem is that they also certainly do not prove that they didn’t. It has therefore been necessary from the beginning to examine other possible explanations for the aggregate gains. The problem here for skeptics is that the evidence weighs very much against them: Florida’s K-12 population became both demographically and economically more challenging since the advent of reform, spending increases were the lowest in the country since the early 1990s (see Figure 4) and other policies favored by skeptics come into play long after the improvement in scores began.

The problem for Florida reform skeptics, in short, is that there simply isn’t any other plausible explanation for Florida’s gains outside of the reforms. They flailed around with an unsophisticated story about 3rd grade retention and NAEP, unable and unwilling to attempt to explain the 3rd grade improvement shown above among other problems. One of NEPC’s crew once theorized that Harry Potter books may have caused Florida’s academic gains at a public forum. DiCarlo has moved on to trying to split hairs with a literature review.

With large aggregate gains and plenty of positive research, the reasonable course is not to avoid doing any of the Florida reforms, but rather to do all of them. In the immortal words of Freud, sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar.


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