The Sweet Agony of Victory

June 30, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

This has to be one of the most priceless photographs of all time- Faye Dunaway post Oscar victory, 1977. It will have to supplement

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

from now on.  Go score some victories so I can post Faye again soon.


Al Winner Al is Bringing It July 15th

June 26, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner) Amazon Prime just informed me that Al Copeland Humanitarian Award Winner Weird Al has a new cd coming out July 15th.  The internet refused to reveal the songs on the collection in a 30 second google search, but there are so many pop songs aching for parody now that Weird Al will likely be shooting fish in a barrel. Just in case no one else is going to suggest it, a Weird Al/Me First and the Gimme Gimmes team up would be totally awesome unless it was so awesome that it tore a rift in space-time, unleash cosmic parody forces beyond human comprehension or control, in which case it would be really TOTALLY AWESOME.


Fordham Continues to Advocate Playing with Fire

June 25, 2014

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Imagine the following playground scenario:

Tommy: Hey guys, I have a great idea! Let’s all go play with fire! It’ll be fun!

Cate: No way, Tommy. Playing with fire is very dangerous. Someone could get hurt!

Jay: Cate’s right. I used to think playing with fire was a good idea, but I’ve seen other kids get burned.

Milt: Yeah, plus, there are lots of ways to have fun without playing with fire!

Tommy: Friends, you’ve taught me an important lesson about the dangers of fire. Okay, here’s my new idea: let’s all go play with fire, but if other kids don’t want to, then playing video games is totally cool too. How’s that sound?

If you find Tommy’s response puzzling, then you’re likely to find the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s “revised” approach to educational choice and accountability equally puzzling.

In the debate between parental choice and top-down government mandates, the Fordham Institute follows Yogi Berra’s advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” Fordham supports choice, but argues that the only way to prevent parents from choosing “bad” schools is to regulate them out of existence. In January, Fordham released a “toolkit” for policymakers that advocated requiring all private schools to administer the state test (i.e. – Common Core) and publish the results as a condition of accepting school vouchers or even tax-credit scholarships. Lower-performing schools would be forbidden from accepting students with vouchers or scholarships going forward.

Fordham’s proposal elicited a torrent of criticism. Andrew Coulson, Director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, and I argued that their approach would stifle educational diversity and innovation. Jay Greene noted that standardized tests capture only a fraction of the benefits of educational choice. James Shuls of the Show-Me Institute pointed to the evidence that parents hold a range of legitimate views regarding what constitutes quality. Robert Enlow, President of the Friedman Foundation, reminded Fordham that such top-down accountability has not worked in government schools—something that Fordham itself once lamented when it called certain test-based accountability measures an “illusion.” Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute expressed concern that without any clear limiting principle, mandating state tests could easily lead to mandating “certified teachers, a state-approved curriculum, state-approved facilities, a state-approved plan of emergency services,” etc.

Last week, Fordham’s incoming Executive President, Michael Petrilli, offered what he called an “olive branch” to Fordham’s critics:

While we didn’t agree with the all of the arguments forwarded by our friends, we did come to see the risk to private-school autonomy and innovation that a test-based accountability system could create. We also understood the particular sensitivity around using Common Core tests for this purpose.

Petrilli then explained that Fordham has updated its “toolkit” accordingly. But if you expected that recognizing “the risk to private-school autonomy and innovation” would mean abandoning the push to mandate state assessments (i.e. – Common Core tests), then Fordham’s “revised” approach will leave you scratching your head. In the “revised” toolkit, Fordham recommends that state policymakers:

Require that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) participate in state assessments. (While we prefer state assessments as policy, we think any widely respected test that allows for ready comparison against other schools or districts is a reasonable compromise);

In case you missed it, Fordham’s “revision” is in the parentheses. Like little Tommy, Fordham claims to recognize the risk of playing with Common Core fire but continues advocating for exactly that (unless they need to compromise for political purposes, in which case other tests are totally cool “a reasonable compromise”). If Fordham truly recognizes the “risk to private-school autonomy and innovation” that Common Core poses, then why is it still calling mandatory Common Core testing as an initial preference?

Petrilli concluded by calling for “a round of Kumbaya” and then getting “back to work on expanding great educational options to lots more children nationwide.” However, expanding educational options should mean more than just which school best teaches to the Common Core tests. By all means let’s work on expanding educational options… but let’s do it right.


Milton Friedman’s case for ESAs from 1995

June 24, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Stephanie Linn from the Friedman Foundation with a great piece on ESAs noting that the great Milton Friedman foresaw the ESA design with a proposal for “partial vouchers”

“Vouchers are not an end in themselves,” Friedman wrote. “The purpose of vouchers is to enable parents to have free choice, and the purpose of having free choice is to provide competition and allow the educational industry to get out of the 17th century and get into the 21st century.” 
 
“Why not add partial vouchers?” Friedman asked. “Why not let (parents) spend part of a voucher for math in one place and English or science somewhere else.”
A longer quote from the original Milton Friedman column is well worth consideration:
No one can predict in advance the direction that a truly free market educational system would take. We know from the experience of every other industry how imaginative competitive free enterprise can be, what new products and services can be introduced, how driven it is to satisfy the customers — that is what we need in education. We know how the telephone industry has been revolutionized by opening it to competition; how fax has begun to undermine the postal monopoly in first-class mail; how UPS, Federal Express and many other private enterprises have transformed package and message delivery and, on the strictly private level, how competition from Japan has transformed the domestic automobile industry.

The private schools that 10 percent of children now attend consist of a few elite schools serving at high cost a tiny fraction of the population, and many mostly parochial nonprofit schools able to compete with government schools by charging low fees made possible by the dedicated services of many of the teachers and subsidies from the sponsoring institutions. These private schools do provide a superior education for a small fraction of the children, but they are not in a position to make innovative changes. For that, we need a much larger and more vigorous private enterprise system.

The problem is how to get from here to there. Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system. The deterioration of our school system and the stratification arising out of the new industrial revolution have made privatization of education far more urgent and important than it was 40 years ago.

In other words, it is time for the parental choice movement to include but also look beyond the stock of private schools we have today. Friedman had this figured out long ago, it is time for the rest of us to catch up (as usual).

 


Governor Scott signs Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts law

June 23, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Governor Rick Scott has signed the nation’s second account based choice program. Go Team ESA!


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…


Additional Thoughts on Vergara Decision

June 12, 2014

I don’t want to throw cold water on the excitement many folks have expressed abut the ruling in Vergara v. California ending teacher tenure protections, but I do think it is important to cool some of the heated enthusiasm.  Matt was appropriately cautious, noting that the decision will certainly be appealed and will take years to play out, but not everyone has been so measured.

I see the decision as more important as a symbol of the political challenges facing unions than as a change in policy that will significantly advance student achievement.  I’m skeptical of the educational impact of the ruling because:

1) It may well be reversed on appeal.  I’m also no lawyer, but I’m enough of a political analyst to see that the Courts are reluctant to make major policy changes without broad support from elites.  As Matt notes, the Courts tend to be lagging indicators of elite opinion, not cutting edge agents of change.  And this is as it should be.  We shouldn’t want unelected judges making too many big policy decisions without enough support from the democratically elected branches to ensure that the decisions can stand and be implemented.  It is an impressive sign of the fading political influence of teacher unions and the intellectual incoherence of some of their central policy positions that a judge was willing to strike down teacher tenure.  But I don’t think there is broad enough support for higher courts to stick with this policy stand.  They’ll find a way to walk back from the ledge.

2) Even if laws protecting tenure are struck down, it is unclear how broadly it will really be used to remove ineffective teachers.  There is a good amount of evidence that principals can distinguish between effective and ineffective teachers, but there isn’t a lot of evidence that principals will exercise that judgment very often even when they are empowered to do so.  Brian Jacob examined a program in Chicago that made it very easy for principals to dismiss teachers.  The good news is that when they dismissed teachers those teachers tended to be much less effective (as measured by VAM).  The bad news is that they rarely used their power to get rid of teachers.  Jacob wrote:

this analysis reveals that many principals – including those in some of the worst performing schools in the district – did not dismiss any teachers despite how easy it was under the new policy. This result is consistent with the fact that existing teacher contracts in many large urban school districts actually provide considerably more flexibility than is commonly believed and yet administrators rarely take advantage of such flexibility (Ballou 2000, Hess and Loup 2008, Price 2009). The apparent reluctance of many Chicago principals to utilize the additional flexibility granted under the new contract may indicate that issues such as teacher supply and/or social norms governing employment relations are more important factors than policymakers have realized.

To change those norms we need to address the motivation of principals to dismiss ineffective teachers even when they are empowered to do that.  Of course, when schools have to attract students and revenue in competitive systems, principals are more active in replacing teachers they deem ineffective.  Choice really does matter for other reforms to work well.

————————————————————-

My former student and soon to be a professor of education, James Shuls, sent me his thoughts on Vergara.  Here is what he sent:

 

Back in April, I posted a series of quotes from Marcellus McRae’s closing argument in Vergara v. California to Jay Blog. Yesterday, the court handed down its decision and it appears that McRae was right, “You can’t make sense out of nonsense.”

Today, I have a piece on the Daily Caller summarizing the ruling and highlighting my take-a-way from the case.

On its face, this was a legal case that considered whether teacher tenure and other job protections violated California’s state constitution. At a more fundamental level, however, this was an evaluation of policies lauded by teachers unions throughout the country – teacher tenure, due process, and last-in, first-out provisions. For these policies to be found unconstitutional they first had to be proven to have an adverse effect on disadvantaged students; and indeed, they were.

I go on to say:

Legally, there are still many questions to be resolved. In the court of public opinion, however, the ruling could not be clearer: Teacher tenure has been tried and it has been found wanting. You simply cannot make sense out of nonsense.

I invite you to check out the full piece here.

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James Shuls is the Director of Education Policy at the Show-Me Institute. Follow on Twitter @shulsie


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