Bipartisan Contempt for Unconditional Tenure


(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

From President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address:

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced States to lay off thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies – just to make a difference.

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels Republican response:

The status of ‘loyal opposition’ imposes on those out of power some serious  responsibilities: to show respect for the Presidency and its occupant, to  express agreement where it exists.  Republicans tonight salute our  President, for instance, for his aggressive pursuit of the murderers of 9/11,  and for bravely backing long overdue changes in public education.

The moral isolation of K-12 reactionaries continues to grow…

11 Responses to Bipartisan Contempt for Unconditional Tenure

  1. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:

    Huhh? Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids Services for strugglearn. …. Say What?

    Where’s the Beef?

    What I see coming from RttT looks to be an emphasis on “teaching to the test” to determine who should be rewarded and who should be fired. …. So how is who should be replaced determined? What percentage of teachers need to be replaced? Who will replace them?

    The practices used by high performing charters would require at least $2,000 per student to get going in all schools. Charters are likely not needed. What is needed is a significant change.

    To be even close to internationally competitive will require at least a 195 day school year, at least an hour longer school day, and more planning time for teachers. {{See 2 million minutes}}

    Interventions for struggling students need to start in grade 1. Educationally disadvantaged learners need assistance as soon as they struggle.

    So who is paying for any of this?

    RttT and CCSS are thus far only the latest manipulative scams from the Education Elite Club members.

  2. allen says:

    You sure it’s just $2,000 per student to do testing? I heard it was $20,000 per student.

    No wait, I just heard it was $20 million per student.

    As long as you’re pulling number out of wherever those numbers are coming from might as well go big, hey?

    Oh darn, you have to maintain some semblence of credibility, don’t you? As unhappy as the electorate is with the public education system you probably don’t want to look like too much of a sap in your spirited defense of not changing a thing.

    “A good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000”?

    If you figure a classroom at twenty kids that means a good teacher’s worth a bump of $12,500 in lifetime earnings per kid. Maybe Obama meant that each good teacher a kid gets is worth $12,500 more over the course of a lifetime.

    Let’s see, thirteen years times five teachers per year is $812,500.

    I wonder by how much a lousy teacher reduces that lifetime earnings figure?

  3. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:


    I would appreciate a more respectful tone from you.

    #1 I am not an advocate for more testing. In WA State and Seattle we hardly need more. Are you a big fan of what is proposed in CCSS? I am not. — No increase in testing cost from what I see as needed to improve educational outcomes.

    #2 I read this Blog regularly. The $2000 / student was not pulled out of wherever as you state.

    Cost is another barrier to bringing this reform strategy to scale, but he notes that the marginal cost is only $1,837 per student and the rate of return on that investment would be roughly 20%. —-

    The above was from the recent Blog Post “Are Charter Schools Models of Reform for Traditional Public Schools?”

    I look for 195 days not 190 and so more than $1,837/ student.

    You wrote:
    Oh darn, you have to maintain some semblence of credibility, don’t you? As unhappy as the electorate is with the public education system you probably don’t want to look like too much of a sap in your spirited defense of not changing a thing.

    That is quite a leap on your part, where is your evidence that I am making a spirited defense of NOT Changing a thing?

    I’ve spent five years attempting to get the powers that be in WA State to make education decisions based on the intelligent application of relevant data.

    Check this posting on the UW’s Math Education Project.

    You are correct in that we have an unhappy electorate in regard to the public education system. It must be remembered that not every change is a solution. The ongoing failure to intelligently apply relevant data is a hallmark of most education-decision makers. It certainly is characteristic of Obama/Duncan education direction with its “incentivization” for RttT and CCSS.

    I find little of RttT or CCSS worthy of support.


    Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr.

    • allen says:

      If you want a respectful tone then don’t crib figures from doubtful sources. That would be Roland Fryer whose estimate of the cost of testing is sufficiently high to be laughable, not this blog.

      #1 I am an advocate for testing. Lots of testing. Testing all the time, with results immediately available to all stakeholders at an appropriate level of abstraction.

      You see, it’s been my observation that when something’s sufficiently important you do a lot of testing. Where some factor isn’t valued, testing isn’t done.

      Flying an airplane? Your airspeed’s tested, oh, a lot. Pretty much continuously.

      Are the kids learning to read? (Shrug) Who cares? Testing’s just so gosh-darned expensive we’ll just put all our faith in the peddlers of various edu-nostrums and their secret sauce is so powerful we won’t have to bother with all that tedious, and oh-so-expensive testing.

      Get it? If it’s important, you test it. If it’s not, you don’t. It’s pretty easy to infer how learning is viewed within the public education system by the attitude toward testing.

      #2 That $2000 figure was pulled out of Roland Fryer’s pointless study in which “he identified 5 features of charter schools that helped them produce strong results”. “Pointless” because there’s nothing remotely unexpected in any of those factors. Oh, and reading through the posting, as well as the report to which the posting refers, that $1,837 figure isn’t identified as an annual expense or a lifetime expense although the assumption appears to be an annual expense. $141.30/year would hardly warrant a mention since lousy textbooks go for that much.

      Let me tell you about the powers that be – they’re not interested in improving education.

      Some, a few, are but most are sufficiently involved in the politics of public education, in which education plays a distinctly secondary role, to be uninterested in proposals which serve no worthwhile political purpose like getting incumbents re-elected. It’s a mandatory-attendence system. The kid’s will come. They have to. So why bother with reforms that actually improve educational results when there’s no political gain in those reforms?

      If that conclusion seems cynical then I invite you to offer a rebuttal. Truth isn’t just a defense against the charge of liable, it’s also a defense against the charge of cynicism.

      The central problem is structural and lies in the political nature of public education. The perverse incentives created by that structural problem mean worthwhile inovations will never be seized upon and propogated and where local conditions birth worthwhile innovations it’s always due to unusual, local conditions which are inevitably transient. That understanding is, I believe, what’s driven the reform of public education and won’t subside until substantive, structural reforms in the way of charters, vouchers and similar parent-empowering policies are the rule rather then the exception.

      And as for RttT, and NCLB – don’t know what CCSS is – their value lies less in making direct changes to the way public education’s done then in making the issue of public education more difficult to ignore. The public education system’s enjoyed the benefit of public trust, apathy, inertia and the fervent desire to believe the highly-trained and highly-motivated professionals simply couldn’t do anything other then a good job. RttT and NCLB made it pretty darned clear to a lot of people that those edu-experts weren’t all the interested in educating kids.

      Proponents of the extant system might be able to fool themselves that the excuses for not testing are valid but outside that cohort the largely unvoiced conclusion is that if you didn’t want to know the answer you weren’t all that interested in the question – if you don’t want to do testing you don’t care about what the testing will reveal.

      • Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:


        Thanks for the clear reply. I certainly agree that “the powers that be – they’re not interested in improving education.”

        In WA State testing has certainly not been a solution for that. We do more than enough testing to have made it quite clear that not much good is happening but …. I will lay a lot of that on the non-teaching powers that be. Naturally the state legislature has lots of mindless ill researched proposals as usual this session.

        The last several WA Superintendents of Public Instruction and the NSF/Education and Human Resources division (NSF/EHR) certainly have played a hand in this unproductive expensive folly. I filed a complaint with the Office of the Inspector General of the NSF because the programs they are funding are producing negative results. Guess what ??? the OIG only checks to see if the grants spend the money the way that was proposed …. the results are not important and don’t matter. the NSF/EHR has been a giant cash cow for universities …. and the results don’t matter as the money just comes rolling in.

        —- I am not looking for more testing. I am looking for the intelligent application of relevant data. Project Follow Through results and the Effect Sizes calculated in John Hattie’s Visible Learning are an excellent guide to making the instructional changes needed. But the education establishment as you say … has no interest in improved results. We have been looking at lackluster results in WA state for some time. Naturally PFT and Hattie are ignored in favor of following more nonsense baloney from the same sources that never produce improvements. Try these for End of Course testing results in Algebra in Spring 2011 …

        District Pass rates for 9th grade low-income algebra students on the OSPI Algebra EoC
        38.5% : Seattle (Discovering Algebra)
        29.6% : Bethel (Discovering Algebra)
        33.1% : Everett (Discovering Algebra)
        31.4% : Highline (Discovering Algebra)
        43.8% : State average

        56.7% : Clover Park (Holt Algebra)
        51.3% : Spokane (Holt Algebra)

        Percent of Students at level 1 (well below basic) for 9th grade low-income algebra students on the OSPI Algebra EoC
        36.7% : Seattle (Discovering Algebra)
        38.4% : Bethel (Discovering Algebra)
        40.6% : Everett (Discovering Algebra)
        43.1% : Highline (Discovering Algebra)
        30.8% : State average

        19.7% : Clover Park (Holt Algebra)
        28.3% : Spokane (Holt Algebra)

        —– The State board of Education found “Discovering Algebra” to be mathematically unsound …. but OSPI and the UW did not care so Seattle Adopted it anyway …. Now $800,000 on texts and $400,000 on professional development later … and the program sucks …. just like the data predicted at the time of adoption.

        We have plenty of testing that is continually ignored in WA STATE … I hope it goes better where you are. I see a big need for improvement but I see very little that leads me to believe that positive changes are on the way.

      • allen says:

        You’re quite welcome. Just refrain from using data of dubious provenance, and quality, and we can get along just fine.

        But you’re not following the chain of implication in your quest. That the powers that be aren’t interested in improving education isn’t the reason they’re not interested in improving education. Absent an understanding, and appreciation, of the reason you have no idea if your pursuit is inherently fruitless or simply difficult.

        It’s fruitless.

        The notion of using data – derived from what other source then testing? – to improve education is hardly a novel thought. In fact, it’s sufficiently trivial a notion that it’s indicative of fundamental problems in our understanding of the public education system. We’ve been collecting data for decades, that’s what the SATs are, we just haven’t used it for the very obvious purpose of improving the insitutions that purport to generate the results implied in the SATs. So why is it that there’s been so little attention paid to the idea of using what data exists to improve education?

        That’s the question you ought to consider to determine whether your quest is pointless or may, if the stars align properly, reach a satisfactory conclusion.

        Sorry to rain on your parade but your quest is pointless. The reason’s because the structure of public education has disincentivised the pursuit of the improvement of education by the education establishment.

        To render that last sentence in slightly more intelligable form, the structure of the public education system provides no incentive, at any level, to pursue improvement in the practice of education.

        Teachers have no incentive to become better teachers. Principals have no incentive to run schools that produce better educational results as, neither do district administrators or school board members. No one does. From top to bottom no one who’s part of the public education system has any structural, i.e. deriving from the way the public education system’s constructed, reason to pursue educational improvement.

        If the structural incentives don’t change then, by definition, all other changes are cosmetic and will be shrugged off as soon as humanly possible. That’s why NCLB failed for its stated purpose, why RttT will fail for its stated purpose and why the imposition of state-level measures of a similar intent will fail. The structural incentives haven’t changed so the response is to mitigate the consequences of the cosmetic changes.

  4. matthewladner says:


    Indiana withdrew from Race to the Top, and I would not infer from Governor Daniels’ comments that he was endorsing the entirety of the Obama education agenda.

    The topic of this post is the fact that the most liberal President since (take your pick) either LBJ, FDR or Woodrow Wilson called for ending unconditional teacher tenure in the state of the union. Daniels and a number of other governors, including some Democrats, took action in that direction. I believe therefore that the logical inference to draw is that Daniels was making reference to tenure reform.

  5. Gov Daniels doesn’t support the Obama education agenda because the OEA does not plan to funnel public tax dollars to religious institutions.
    Read up on the Archbishop of Philadelphia wanting tax dollars to keep his schools open.

  6. Danaher M. Dempsey, Jr. says:

    Phillip Marlowe,

    Interesting thought on $$$ for instruction of non-religious subjects in Catholic Schools. In several areas over the years students have had released time for religious instruction. Mormons often have instruction before the school day begins but in Idaho in the early 1970s I think that there may have been released time during the school day in some locations. I believe it was used by both Mormons and Catholics and perhaps other denominations at various locations.

    Anyone have information on similar practices in the various Canadian provinces?

  7. Ze'ev Wurman says:

    “We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.”

    A $250,000 increase in a lifetime income of a classroom comes to to about $10,000 lifetime increase per each of 25 students. Assuming 35 years of working life it comes to less than $300 per year increase, and I am not sure that $25 per months is worth all the billions we invest every year in improving teacher training.

    Or, perhaps, the President and his speechwriters are simply the product of the current fuzzy teaching of mathematics. In that case I am all for investing more in teacher training, to spare us from more innumeracy in the White House.

  8. allen says:

    > The moral isolation of K-12 reactionaries continues to grow…


    Over at Right on the Left Coast – – there’s a link to a film by Juan Williams and Kyle Olson – “A Tale of Two Missions”, – that helps highlight that isolation.

    There’s already Democrats for Education Reform and now there’s the Education Action Group foundation. The left’s splitting along the lines of support for the public education status quo and that’s a pretty exciting development although it’s been under weigh for some years.

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