I’ve Got a Bad Feeling About This…

March 23, 2016

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Remember when I told you about Clark County (LV) Nevada packing thousands of kids into trailers with long-term substitute teachers some of whom even had BA degrees? Hmmm….well, in addition to explosive population growth and the ongoing retirement of the Baby Boom generation, this might have something to do with it as well:

ed majors (1)

So apparently college freshmen have started to listen to the large number of people who have been through an Ed School and found the experience profoundly unsatisfying. Or perhaps they are looking past that at a public school system that treats you like a 19th Century factory worker rather than a professional. Maybe both things are true. In any case, especially for states with booming K-12 populations, it is time for fresh thinking not on how we train teachers, but also about the deeper issues surrounding undesirability of the profession which goes well beyond compensation issues.

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…

Randi Weingarten and Friends Respond to My WSJ Piece

October 15, 2012

I’ve long argued that the teacher unions are hardly better at running their political interests than they are at running schools.  They compensate for lousy ideas and poorly made arguments with the brute force of mountains of cash and an army of angry teachers.

My view of the teacher unions was confirmed by their mangled reaction to my piece in the Wall Street Journal noting the trade-offs between the number of teachers we hire and their quality.  The boss of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, tweeted her response: “They don’t want to pay teachers comp salaries…”

Now, I should say that anyone who attempts to engage in a substantive debate on Twitter is an idiot and so I fully confess that I was an idiot for trying to do so.  I responded: “we could have increased teacher salaries by 50% instead of increasing their number by that amount.”  And then I reiterated the point: “you seem to prefer having 50% more teachers over 50% higher salaries. Why is that?”

Having raised the issue, Randi Weingarten obviously had not thought through where the argument might go.  She couldn’t offer the obvious answer: “Because the teacher union cares more about power than about teachers, so having 50% more of them gives us a larger army on election day while 50% more pay might create more satisfied professionals who are less dependent on the union.”

No, thinking things through is not exactly the union’s forte.  They are more accustomed to crushing opponents with ad hominem attacks or distracting the audience with emotional and irrelevant appeals.  So, that’s exactly what they did.  Teacher union flak, Caitlin McCarthy, chimed in with: “Jay Greene shld model how an XL class size would work w/ Randi sitting in back taking notes for us. LOL.”  Randi Weingarten agreed with Caitlin McCarthy, adding to the joke: “I wld have to be in front-so I cld see the board.”

I responded that it is obviously possible to have higher student-teacher ratios since we used to have them and without getting worse results: “student teacher ratios from 40 years ago were modeled 40 years ago. If impossible how did they?”

McCarthy replied with a “these go to 11” argument, repeating that I needed to model how it was possible to have higher student-teacher ratios, tweeting: “Jay, again I suggest u actually model this & not just write/imagine it. Practice what u preach.”  This was followed by a series of tweets from McCarthy all of which were based on the notion that only teachers have standing to hold opinions about education policy.  She wrote: ” I understand & respect teaching b/c I walk the walk. I’m not all talk. Model ur ideas, Jay” and “Jay, have you ever subbed in an urban area for a wk? Not being snarky. A legit question.” and “Never take advice from someone who hasn’t been there.”  Randi Weingarten again joined McCarthy in her argument, tweeting: “Good Q Jay-have u ever taught high school in an urban/rural setting.”

I was struck by the anti-intellectualism of their line of argument.  What kind of educator would believe that the only way to know something is by having done it?  If that were true, we should dispense with schools and just have apprenticeships.  I tweeted: “so the only way to know something is to have done it? Shows no faith in abstract learning” and “As an educator you believe in abstract learning, right? Or do we only learn by apprenticeship?”

Mentioning abstract learning to the teacher union’s army of angry teachers must be like waving a red cape in front of a bull.  Caitlin McCarthy charged with all of her bovine might: “I would expect this kind of comment from an ‘abstract thinker’ out of touch w/ reality. Go sub.”

McCarthy threw in some additional ad hominem just to complete her stereotype as a teacher union flak unable or uninterested in discussing the substance of arguments.  She tweeted: “Jay was born circa ’67. He never lived firsthand the schools of yore & has a pol agenda.”  Oh, the substance of my argument can be ignored because I have a political agenda while she and Weingarten have no agenda at all other than their love of children.  And when Texas Parents Union tweeted Randi Weingarten and Caitlin McCarthy “While we wait on @jaypgreene to respond, what is your specific concern with article? Just curious…” McCarthy replied ” Hmm…u link to StudentsFirst & Stand For Children on ur site, so it’s safe to assume u agree w/ Jay?”  Never mind the argument, let’s talk about who you link to and who’s side you’re on.

I would like to think that the anti-intellectual, non-substantive, and ad hominem nature of the teacher union response was simply a function of the stupidity of trying to have an argument on Twitter.  But unfortunately, this is the main way I have seen them argue for more than two decades.  Fortunately for those opposed to the union’s policy agenda, their bullying and mangled arguments only continue to erode their credibility in policy discussions.  As I’ve said before, the teacher unions are already starting to be treated like the Tobacco Institute, a well-financed and well-organized special interest that has no legitimacy in policy debates.




WSJ Op-Ed — We Don’t Need More Teachers

October 9, 2012


I have a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about how the solution to our education problems can’t be found by hiring more teachers.  We need quality over quantity, for which we will have to pay the teachers we do have more.  And more importantly, we need to substitute technology for labor in education like we have in almost every other industry to improve productivity.  But in public education we have been doing the reverse, hiring more, lower quality teachers and failing to develop and implement cost-effective technology.

I know all of this is well-worn territory, but given that both presidential candidates endorsed the idea of hiring more teachers the editors at the WSJ thought it was important to emphasize the point.

This is How You Pay for That 16% Pay Raise

September 25, 2012

How will virtually bankrupt Chicago pay for the 16% pay raise over 4 years that is in the new teacher contract?

As I suggested last week, this headline in the Chicago Tribune answers the question:

Pushing the charter school agenda

With the CTU strike over, Mayor Rahm Emanuel pushes to grow charter schools
If you reduce the unionized teacher work force by 20% over the next four years by continuing to open new charter schools and close under-enrolled traditional public schools, the city might even come out ahead.  The new contract does nothing to stop this process from continuing and yet the unions are crowing like they scored a major victory.

In Chicago — Phony Merit Pay is Dead, Long Live True Merit Pay

September 19, 2012

The dust hasn’t yet settled from the resolution of the Chicago teacher strike, but it appears that the reforms the city were able to retain will result in a better “true” merit pay system than the “phony” merit pay plan they were forced to concede.

Let me explain the difference between true and phony merit pay.  True merit pay — the kind of compensation for job performance found in most industries — provides effective employees with continued employment and regular raises while ineffective workers lose their jobs.  If you do a good job you get to keep getting a pay check and if you don’t you have to look for work somewhere else.  That’s true payment for merit because un-meritorious workers stop getting paid altogether.

In phony merit pay — the kind that hardly exists in any industry — there is a mechanistic calculation of performance that determines the size of a small bonus that is provided in addition to a base salary that is essentially guaranteed regardless of performance.  You can stink and still keep your job and pay.  The worst that can happen is you miss out on some or all of a modest bonus.  To make it even more phony, in the few cases where this kind of phony merit pay has been tried, the game is often rigged so that virtually all employees are deemed meritorious and get at least some of the bonus.

According to the initial reports, the city of Chicago abandoned its efforts to institute this latter, phony merit pay.  As the Chicago Teachers Union put it: “The Board agreed to move away from ‘Differentiated Compensation,’ which would have allowed them to pay one set of teachers (based on unknown criteria) one set of pay versus another set of pay for others.”

But the city preserved key provisions that result in at least some amount of true merit pay.  Specifically, the city preserved the ability to continue opening new, non-unionized charter schools at a rapid clip.  It is already the case that almost 50,000 of the 400,000 students in Chicago’s public schools attend charter schools.  As students migrate from traditional to charter schools, enrollment in the unionized sector has plummeted, causing 86 traditional public school closures over the last decade.  Enrollment is so low in many existing traditional public schools that 120 additional schools are eligible for closure next year.  As long as the city can continue to open charter schools and as long as there is demand by students to leave for charters, traditional public schools will continue to be closed in large numbers.

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.

The Gates Foundation, Michelle Rhee, and various other reform groups have pressed ahead with efforts to build a machinery to rate teachers and provide bonuses to the ones that have higher ratings.  They’ve pulled out the stops, devoted millions of dollars, and even twisted the truth to advance these merit pay systems because they are convinced that this is the most politically feasible and effective way forward.  Choice, especially vouchers, holds little appeal to them because they see it as a political dead-end.

As I think the events in Chicago help demonstrate and as I had feared in the Ed Next piece I wrote with Stuart Buck, the political calculations of these reformers are entirely mistaken.  Building reform around a top-down system of teacher evaluations and merit pay is too easily blocked, diluted, or co-opted.  But expanding choice continues to be a political winner and will result in real merit pay… and I believe real progress in student learning.

If Teachers are Underpaid, Why Don’t They Earn More When They Move to Other Professions?

September 4, 2012

[Note — AEI’s Jason Richwine noticed my post urging people to read the debate in Education Next over how to assess teacher compensation.  He asked if he could submit this post to address an argument raised by Mishel and Roy that he did not have the space to respond to in Ed Next.]

(Guest Post by Jason Richwine)

The fall issue of Education Next features a debate: “Are Public School Teachers Underpaid?” Andrew Biggs and I contributed an argument based on our report released last year, while Lawrence Mishel and Joydeep Roy from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) offer a rebuttal. Unfortunately, Andrew and I had only 300 words for our subsequent rejoinder, so much of their critique went unaddressed.

One of the points we made in our original piece is that EPI’s underpaid-teacher hypothesis generates a testable prediction: If teachers are underpaid relative to their skills, teachers who leave the profession should, on average, earn more in their new jobs. Likewise, new workers coming into teaching should, on average, take a pay cut from their previous jobs.

Andrew and I showed that, if anything, the opposite is true: Individuals get an average salary increase of 8.8 percent when they enter the teaching profession and a pay cut of around 3.1 percent when they leave.

Mishel and Roy confirm our empirical finding. In fact, they add that ex-teachers typically do not become engineers or chemists—they often become “librarians, cashiers, secretaries, and clergy.”

This would seem to cast strong doubt on the underpaid-teacher hypothesis, but Mishel and Roy don’t interpret it that way. They point out that just 1 percent of teachers actually leave for a different profession each year, and those who do leave tend to be making the lowest salaries. Therefore, they argue, we can hardly make inferences about the skill level of the average teacher based on this tiny, unrepresentative fraction. They don’t explicitly say that leavers have below-average skills, but the implication is needed for their argument to make sense.

I agree that teachers who stay could be more skilled than teachers who leave, but possessing these allegedly greater skills clearly does not compel them to seek higher salaries in the private sector. That was our point. If teachers are insufficiently compensated for their skills, we would observe teachers – particularly those with greater skills – leaving for higher-paying jobs. But despite all the anecdotes, the data just don’t show that happening.

In fact, Mishel and Roy’s response to us on job switchers is something of an own-goal. They are saying that, despite their own claims about teaching being underpaid relative to other professions, just 1 percent of teachers actually leave for a different profession each year. And that 1 percent may be made up of the least-skilled teachers. So tell me again why we need to raise teacher pay across-the-board…

“How Do You Sleep at Night?”

February 7, 2012

Just fine, thank you.

But some teachers seem determined to disturb the sleep of people who do research they dislike.  When Heritage’s Jason Richwine co-authored a study on teacher pay, he received a message from his child’s second grade teacher asking him, “How do you sleep at night?”

Note that the teacher did not ask him to describe the source of the data analyzed or defend the interpretation of results.  The teacher was just engaged in bullying, a practice that schools say they are trying to discourage.  And part of the bullying is the not so subtle reminder that the teacher has Richwine’s children all day.  Parents are (at least partially) compelled to send their children to the care of adults who may threaten you if you say things they dislike.

Imagine a doctor similarly bullying a patient who advocated for reductions in Medicare reimbursement rates.  I imagine the doctor could face disciplinary action from licensing authorities for unethical conduct.  If teachers want to be treated as professionals, then they have to abide by professional norms of behavior, including separating one’s personal feelings from one’s job.

Most teachers do behave professionally, but these outbursts are not as rare as they should be.  Unfortunately, the teacher unions and their advocates, like Diane Ravitch and Valerie Strauss, encourage strident views and confrontational tactics that make unprofessional behavior far more likely.

Long run, it’s a bad strategy for teachers to get their way in policy disputes by threatening and intimidating parents.  It takes a couple hundred ads about teachers buying school supplies with their own funds to counter one such incident.

Teachers Matter

January 3, 2012

My friend and colleague, Marcus Winters, has a new book out on how to improve the quality of the teaching workforce.  Teachers Matter is an excellent summary of the literature on how best to recruit, train, and motivate teachers.  It’s a must-read for anyone interested in merit pay, credentialing, and teacher evaluation.  It’s a particularly good book to assign for classes that cover these subjects.  Check it out.

Are Public School Teachers Underpaid?

November 7, 2011

(Guest Post by Lindsey M. Burke)

My colleague at Heritage, Jason Richwine, along with co-author Andrew Biggs of AEI, has just published a groundbreaking new paper on teacher compensation. The authors find that public school teachers “make total compensation 52 percent greater than fair market levels, equivalent to more than $120 billion overcharged to taxpayers each year.”

As Bob Costrell noted (Costrell was the discussant at the public event at AEI earlier this week to present the findings) Richwine and Biggs’ research significantly contributes to the existing literature on teacher compensation. In doing so, it shatters three myths that have driven policy in the wrong direction for decades.

Myth No. 1: Teachers are constantly tempted to leave the classroom for high-paying private sector jobs. We’re told that teachers are tempted into higher-paying professions; that it is a teacher’s sense of commitment, not high compensation, which tethers them to the classroom. Teachers, as former AFT president Sandra Feldman once argued “are being lured to other professions with handsome salary offers.” The NEA’s Kim Anderson even responded to the Richwine/Biggs study by stating that “Talented individuals turn away from this rewarding profession because they are forced to choose between making a difference in the lives of students and providing for their families.”

For the average teacher, however, this isn’t the case. Switching from a non-teaching job to a teaching job increases workers wages, on average, by 9 percent; transitioning from teaching to non-teaching, by contrast, results in a wage decrease of 3 percent. As Richwine and Biggs observe, it’s “the opposite of what one would expect if teachers were underpaid.”

Which brings us to myth number two…

Myth No. 2: Teachers are underpaid. Richwine and Biggs’ finding that teachers are paid above market value runs contrary to what we so often hear – that teachers are, to quote Sec. Duncan, “desperately underpaid.”

While it’s true that public school teachers earn less, on average, than similarly credentialed non-teachers, Richwine and Biggs note that traditional skill measures, such as years spent in school or level of degree, do not lend themselves to an accurate salary comparison of teachers to non-teachers. The “wage gap” disappears when teachers and non-teachers are compared using objective measures of cognitive ability, as opposed to years of university education.

Beyond paper qualifications, comparisons of public school teachers to their private school counterparts provides more evidence that public school teachers are compensated above market value. The authors find that “With all observable skills held constant, public-school teachers nationally earn 9.8 percent more in salaries than private school teachers.”

But it’s the benefits that are the biggest factor. Biggs notes in NRO:

“The BLS benefits data, which most pay studies rely on, has three shortcomings: It omits the value of retiree health coverage, which is uncommon for private workers but is worth about an extra 10 percent of pay for teachers; it understates the value of teachers’ defined-benefit pensions, which pay benefits several times higher than the typical private 401(k) plan; and it ignores teachers’ time off outside the normal school year, meaning that long summer vacations aren’t counted as a benefit. When we fix these problems, teacher benefits are worth about double the average private-sector level.

“Finally, public-school teachers have much greater job security, with unemployment rates about half those of private-school teachers or other comparable private occupations. Job security protects against loss of income during unemployment and, even more importantly, protects a position in which benefits are much more generous than private-sector levels.”

When considering the benefits public school teachers enjoy – job security, health benefits, and plush pension packages – the “totality of the evidence” suggests that teachers are not underpaid, and are actually, overpaid.

Myth No. 3: We aren’t attracting enough teachers. Well, myth number three is actually a half-myth. During the AEI discussion, Costrell also pointed out that the median number of qualified applicants per teaching position is 15:1. So while there is actually excess supply, there is wide variation by field. While there are only four applications for every available speech and language pathology position, there are 129 applicants for every elementary (K-6 teacher) position.

Teachers should be paid fair market wages, but the current system prevents teachers from being rewarded based on their performance.

Research shows that teacher quality is one of the most important factors in increasing student achievement. Effective teachers should be handsomely rewarded for the impact they are having on a child’s education. By reforming compensation policies in a way that accounts for the abilities of great teachers to improve student outcomes, we will ensure excellent teachers are richly compensated, and mediocre teachers have a strong incentive to improve.

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