So We Meet Again Baumol…

October 12, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Part 3 of the Baumol series at the Ed Fly blog is posted, and James Shuls weighs in with an illustration of Baumol from Missouri.

Mahatma Kozol Takes Cash Only

September 26, 2012

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Over the email transom from George Mitchell comes a publicity item for Jonathan Kozol’s latest weeper. Here’s the part that really stood out to me:

We should let folks know there are signing restrictions for this event. Mr. Kozol will only personalize copies of Fire in the Ashes, and will only sign the most recent editions of four of his backlist titles that are purchased at the event.

What a selfless and noble tribune of generosity! What a titanic warrior against the greed of capitalism!

For my money (if Kozol will pardon the expression) nobody’s ever managed to top Tucker Carlson’s 1995 classic “Jonathan Kozol’s Crying Game.” One of the best things WS published even back in its glory days.

PS “Mahatma Kozol” courtesy of the Fordham Institute, during Kozol’s ridiculous “partial fast” in 2007. The image seems to have disappeared from Fordham’s site but it lives on at Alexander Russo’s blog.

Charting the K-12 Productivity Implosion

March 8, 2012

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Previously on JPGB, I wrote about how the world is getting better all the time, with the notable exception of K-12 education. That post included the following chart from Andrew Coulson of the Cato Institute:

So just how did we manage to pull this off? The Digest of Education Statistics illustrates how we managed it on the spending side. First, the number of teachers per pupil expanded substantially. Now I am writing this in my pajamas before having my morning caffeine, so feel free to double-check my numbers from the source.

The vast expansion of the teaching workforce is entirely overshadowed however by the truly mind-boggling expansion of the non-teacher workforce. Take special note of the ratios of teachers to non-teachers:

So the trend in the overall pupil per public school employee ratio:

So while the public school system has been busy vastly increasing employment, what has been going on with student achievement? The long-term NAEP reading trend looks like this:

 While the long-term NAEP math trend looks like this:

To sum up, we had a vast increase in the number of public school employees per student in the American public school system. In terms of outputs, we managed a two point gain in the average 17 year olds math achievement, and another point in reading. Mind you, that’s one point on a 500 point scale exam.

I’m ready to try something different.

Incomplete Report Is Incomplete

September 12, 2011

Education reform, like highway. Man walk left side of street, okay. Man walk right side of street, okay. Man walk middle of street . . . chhhhhheeerrrrrriiiik! Just like grape.

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

A think tank called Third Way has a new report out, titled “Incomplete,” on the mediocrity of middle class schools. And with a name like Third Way, you know it has to be good!

On the surface, the point of the report is to emphasize that we don’t just have an education crisis in “the inner city” (i.e. in somebody eles’s neighborhood); we have an education crisis in “middle class” schools.

And that’s true! Part of me wants to be positive about this report and say, “okay, people are starting to get that this isn’t just about the 10% of kids in the worst schools.” After all, we’ve always said around here that we won’t get the education reforms we need until white suburbanites see how inadequate their own schools are.

But this report frames everything all wrong. Here are the three “key findings” they list:

  1. Most students are taught in middle class schools (duh)
  2. Middle class schools spend the least per pupil, pay teachers the least, and have the highest enrollment to teacher ratios.
  3. Middle class students are underachieving in test scores and college graduation rates.

The report offers no action items and no conclusions of substance beyond “a second phase of education reform focused on middle-class schools can’t begin soon enough.”

Right! Because the assumption that we don’t need to think about the policy specifics since everything is about mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money worked so well in the first phase of education reform!

Normally I wouln’t bother highlighting yet another blob mouthpiece hawking the mo-money line, but I wonder if this is going to be a new trend. A focus on the black/white, urban/suburban achievement gap doesn’t translate to mo-money for them any more, because they’ve gotten mo-money for that for decades and have squat to show for it. Is the mo-money line going to start migrating to other issues now?

Perhpas they’ve discovered a perpetual motion machine. You spend decades complaining that we need to increase spending in the inner city because we spend less there than in the suburbs, then once you can’t say we spend less in the inner city any more, you start saying we need to increase spending in the suburbs – because, of course, we spend less there than in the inner city! Rinse and repeat in perpetuity.

Old Diane Debates Future Self

April 27, 2011

Old Diane Ravitch has now created one of those computer animated videos in which she debates her future self, all done with actual quotes from the once and future Diane Ravitch.  This is the funniest thing to hit the internet since Homestarrunner.

If I were as tech savvy as Current Diane, I’d figure out how to embed the video here.  But since I am a Luddite, just follow this link.

And in case you doubt how tech savvy Current Diane is, consider this:

If it is accurate that Diane Ravitch joined Twitter on July 22, 2009 and if she has “tweeted” 9,403 times since then (as is currently indicated on her Twitter page), then she has tweeted an average 14.62 times per day. That’s once every 57 minutes for every waking hour over the last 643 days.

That sounds normal to me.

[UPDATE:  Old Diane Ravitch helpfully put her debate with Future Self on Youtube.  Now I can embed it in the post.  Thank you, Old Diane.  You are the best (even if you were a blowhard authoritarian and perhaps a lousy scholar back then).

The Wisdom of Old Diane Ravitch

April 25, 2011

It’s kind of sad to see the bizarre behavior of Diane Ravitch as she bathes in the adoration of her new found friends and financiers.  In just the last hour Diane sent out 14 tweets.  14!  Doesn’t she have anything better to do than to shower the world with such nuggets as:

“unions protect teachers against arbitrary firing, defend education budget in Legislature, Congress.

When does she have time to adjust her medication?

But as Matt noted over the weekend, someone has taken to “tweeting” under the name “Old Diane Ravitch,” sending quotations from Ravitch’s earlier writings.  And those claims are almost as hyperbolic in the opposite direction as are her current claims.

All of this raises the same question that I raised before about whether Ravitch is really a great scholar.  She hardly seems like a serious person.  And it seems perfectly possible to me that her current horde of devoted followers are just as delusional as were her previous horde.  They just like her for saying things that they want to hear and have no ability to judge the substance behind her various claims.

While I’ve never been a Ravitch fan and have always found her to be a bit of an authoritarian blow-hard (then and now), here are some tidbits of wisdom from Old Diane Ravitch that are just hilarious in contrast to her current declarations:

Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
I object to the practice of assigning new teachers to troubled schools, often as a result of union seniority rules.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
Thanks for the follow @m_rhee — the next tweet’s for you!
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
@m_rhee The system we have serves adults, not children. Let’s reverse that formula.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
The public school system would be strengthened by the ability to shut down bad schools.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
It is unjust there is no realistic way to force the closure of schools that students and parents would abandon if they could.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
If the current system is successful for only half of students, then new approaches must be sought to help everyone else
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
The challenge to public education today is not to reinforce the correlation between achievement and social class, but to sever it.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
There is a tendency to rationalize poor performance by implying that poverty equals destiny and so no one is to blame for failure.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch

@DianeRavitch Without testing, there is no consistent way to measure success or failure.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch

@DianeRavitch Future self, I can tell that you are going to be a formidable opponent.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch

@DianeRavitch Many states are clamoring to reduce class size, but few are grappling with the most important questions.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch

@DianeRavitch Public contracting is often referred to as “privatization,” but that label is misleading.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
It may be harder to graduate from high school than to become a certified teacher.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch

@MichaelPetrilli I agree. Every school should have the power to select its own teachers, remove the incompetents.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
Texas model has successfully improved the performance of black and Hispanic students, particularly in math and writing
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
Congress should focus on the quality, not quantity, of the nation’s teaching corps.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
NYC schools chancellor should have the power to close schools that consistently fail or engage in corrupt practices.
Old Diane Ravitch
OldDianeRavitch Old Diane Ravitch
Every classroom should have a well-educated, knowledgeable teacher. We are far from that goal today.

Derrell Bradford Brings It!

April 12, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

I’m betting Derrell Bradford is off of Randi Weingarten’s Christmas Card list after this MSNBC exchange.  Weingarten is babbling about wrap-around services while Derrell Bradford is telling the truth about about urban districts spending $30,000 per kid getting 22% graduation rates.

I can’t figure out how to embed the video- so go check it out:

Jack Jennings Has Questions. We Answer with More Questions.

February 15, 2011

Jack Jennings, the former Democratic staffer for the House Education and Labor Committee and current head of the Center on Education Policy, has a piece on Huffington/AOL/whatever that thing is.  In case you aren’t familiar with his oeuvre you can read Greg’s “Check the Facts” on Jennings in Education Next a few years back.

In making the case for more federal spending on education and for national standards and assessments, Jennings asks:

How can the country raise academic achievement if 14,000 local school districts are each making their own decisions on most key aspects of education?

I thought about answering with evidence on how choice and competition among school districts improves educational outcomes from people like Caroline Hoxby, Henry Levin, and yours truly.  But then I remembered that evidence is not really Jennings’ thing.

It might be better to answer Jennings’ question by slightly re-wording it to fit different contexts and see if it still seemed like a reasonable question.  Here we go:

How can the country raise gross domestic product if 29.6 million businesses are each making their own decisions on most key aspects of the economy?

Or how about this:

How can the country reduce crime if there are more than 17,000 law enforcement agencies each making their own decisions on most key aspects of crime-prevention?

This is getting easy.  Here’s another:

How can the country make good laws if 535 members of Congress are each making their own decisions on most key aspects of public policy?

Why would Jennings think that he is making a persuasive argument with a rhetorical question that is rebutted by rigorous research and seems silly when transplanted to other situations?  Sadly, Jennings rhetorical question may win some converts and it does so not by being reasonable or by being consistent with research findings.  Jennings uses this rhetorical question because it appeals to people’s desire for power, not their desire for evidence or logical consistency.  When Jennings asks how we can make schools better with so many independent school districts, he is appealing to the reader’s fantasy that they or their allies might be able to dominate the enhanced central authority that would substitute for so many independent school districts.

Inside most public policy wonks is a mini-dictator, waiting to come out.  They dream about how things ought to be organized… if only they were in charge.  The drive for Common Core national standards is built on appealing to these mini-dictator fantasies.

Of course, if the mini-dictators realize that others are striving to control the central authority, they may turn against the idea if they think they are unlikely to be the ones in charge.  That is our best hope.  It is impossible to remove the thirst for power, but it is possible to (as the Founders realized) pit ambition against ambition in the hope that it will prevent tyranny.

(edited for typos)

Bureaucratic Bloat – Bathroom Edition!

January 24, 2011

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Short version of this post: I clean my own toilet, therefore school staff unions should be abolished.

Long verson: I just had an article come out on bureaucratic bloat in Oklahoma schools, in which I noted that only half of the state’s K-12 public education employees are teachers. That’s pretty much par for the course nationwide.

(Before you ask, the breakdown looks similar if you do it by dollars instead of by headcount. I use headcount because it’s simpler – with dollars you have to navigate a more complex set of categories – and because there are categories of spending over which states have little control, such as debt service, whereas headcount is more flexibile.)

One argument I made was that instead of focusing on bloat in “administration,” we should really focus on privatizing services in the giant “other” category – bus, cafeteria, etc. Private companies already exist that can provide all those services better and cheaper. There’s no reason these functions should be performed by unionized civil servants under outrageously dysfunctional personnel rules that ensure substandard performance and with gargantuan nuclear exploding pensions that cost ONE TRILLION DOLLARS.

A disgruntled teacher writes in (anonymously) to say, among much else, that my argument is invalid because I don’t clean my own toilet:

 Not only do you expect us to teach our children, which I gladly and proudly do well, but you expect us to do so with out the assistance or limited assistance of janitorial staff, nurses, aides, bus drives and cooks. So we are to teach successfully as well as clean the toilets, cook their meals, take their temperature and drive buses (which we do anyway)…I wonder if Mr. Forster has someone that cleans his office and bathroom or if he does that himself?

(Read the letter in all its unabridged, unedited, undiluted glory here.)

Now, there are several problems here. As William F. Buckley once wrote: “I have seen non-sequiturs in my life, baby ones, middle-sized ones, and great big ones, but they all stand aside in awe at yours.”

First, I didn’t argue that teachers should clean their own toilets; I said we should hire private service providers to do it instead of using unionized civil servants. The teacher herself, curiously, seems to recognize this, but only in the non-toilet context; she complains elsewhere in the letter that under my argument “we are to contract out to professionals to provide meal service.” (I will leave unremarked upon her implicit acknowledgement that unionized civil servants cannot be considered “professionals”; unremarked upon as well will be the question of what this implies about teachers.)

The real problem with her argument, though, is that I do, in fact, clean my own toilet. The office in which I work does not hire janitorial staff. We are all responsible for cleanliness, including the bathrooms. On my first day, this fact was impressed upon me with some force by the administrative staff. And I’m proud to say that I have lived up to my responsibilities.

After all, I learned my skills through discipleship with a true master – the Li Mu Bai of toilet cleaning.

Sure he can walk on water – but does he clean it?

My first job in education was working for Jay Greene – yes, the Jay Greene – and we had no janitorial staff in that office either. In addition to our each taking responsibility for our messes daily, Jay appointed a regular schedule for comprehensive office cleaning. We each took a task – dusting, vacuuming, etc.

Jay always took the bathroom cleaning job. Every time. He told us this was his way of setting an example for the staff, citing a motto from the Israeli officer corps: “Follow Me!”

I still do.

So, if my arguments would be invalid if I didn’t clean my own toilet, doesn’t it therefore follow that since I do clean my own toilet, my arguments are valid?

Has the Washington Post lost their BS detector?

January 21, 2011

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Valerie Strauss over at the Answer Sheet put up a guest post from a fellow Arizonan, Michael Martin, who is a research analyst at the Arizona School Boards Association, about the “real” source of Florida’s education gains.

I’ve never met Martin, but was taken aback a few years ago when he authored a column in the Arizona Republic claiming that the state ought not to take over the Roosevelt School District, one of the worst in Arizona. Martin made this claim based on the assertion that there was a massive incidence of lead poisoning in the district.

I thought that this was an extraordinary claim to make that ought to be incredibly alarming to parents in the district. I spoke to local health officials, who assured me that there was zero evidence to support such an irresponsible claim. I called on Martin to provide evidence to support the notion that South Phoenix kids had been turned into uncontrollable lead poison zombies.

Strangely enough, I never heard back from him. But other than that, I’m sure he is a swell guy.

Now in the WaPo blog, Martin spins a yarn about Florida NAEP scores which is far beyond absurd. The first clue that something is wrong here comes in the fact that the Arizona School Boards Association disavowed the “analysis.”

Good move on their part.

So go read the thing for yourself. People in the comments section began to decimate the Martin analysis, but the comments section is now closed. When they were closed, no one had yet made the most obvious possible criticism.

I’ll give you a hint: according the the National Center for Education Statistics there are 4,491 district run schools in the state of Florida.