We are obligated to respect the office of President of the United States but nobody needs to agree with what the occupant of that office says. And Barack Obama could not have been more wrong in his mid-day remarks yesterday to the nation's governors on the subject of school teachers.
The President could not have been more wrong in his remarks yesterday to the nation's governors on the subject of school teachers.
Photo by jamesomalley.
In perhaps his most vivid example yet of election-year pandering to the teacher unions that comprise a non-trivial part of the Democratic Party's "base," he rattled on at considerable length about the need to "get more teachers into our classrooms."
MORE teachers. Not better teachers. Not teachers that add greater value to their students and make their schools more effective. Not teachers who know their subject matter. Not more pay and greater professional opportunities for outstanding teachers. Just plain MORE TEACHERS, supported with more money from federal and state budgets.
Don't ask whether that's the best possible use of scarce education dollars in a time of reduced revenue and perilous debt. Just spend more on more teachers.
Almost everybody who has paid any attention to education policy or finance by now knows that the student:teacher ratio in U.S. schools went from
CORRECTION. This fantastic Gotham
Schools article explains that
New York’s rating system was designed to guarantee that “effective” and “ineffective”
teachers would be found all over the city. Which renders the New York Times story—and my post—basically
Still, this wasn’t the first bit of evidence showing that we might not have a teacher effectiveness gap, or at least much of one. This rigorous CALDER study, in particular, found that:
The average effectiveness of teachers in high-poverty schools is in general less than teachers in other schools, but only slightly, and not in all comparisons. The authors also find differences in within-school-type variation in teacher effectiveness in nearly every comparison. These differences are largely driven by the longer tail at the bottom of the teacher effectiveness distribution in high-poverty schools. Teachers at the top of the effectiveness distribution are very similar across school settings.
So the evidence on the lack of a gap isn’t as open and shut as my post implies. But it certainly appears likely that the gap is much smaller than we once thought—which does call for pushing the pause button on massive efforts to move teachers around.
The finding—reported by the Times this weekend—that really good, and really bad, teachers are evenly distributed around New York City is jaw-dropping news. It upends everything we thought we knew about teacher quality, especially the notion that our achievement gap is caused in large part by a "teacher quality gap," with the worst teachers clustered in the neediest schools. But they aren't. So now
When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, hundreds of public schools were put out of commission and their staff placed on leave. Many charters schools expanded to absorb the displaced students, and these charter schools hired teachers from traditional schools to meet the enrollment demand. A glitch, fixed by state legislation, was to allow the displaced teachers to remain in the state teacher pension plan since some of the charter schools did not participate in the state plan. In 2010 this temporary law expired. Many of these transplanted teachers remain employed in charter schools and wished to continue to participate in the state teacher plan. Legislation was passed to allow these transplanted teachers to remain permanently in the state retirement plan, if—and this is a very big if—the Treasury Department approved.
Are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that they can participate in state and local pension plans?
The Treasury Department held off ruling on the Louisiana case while it worked on regulations that would provide new guidance on what it meant for a plan to be a "governmental plan." In November, the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations on the subject, and the news is not good for charter school teachers in Louisiana, or anywhere, since these new rules would affect charter schools in all states.
The legal issues are complex, and in a forthcoming study, two of us (Buck and Thukral) will attempt to sort them out. However, the nub of the matter centers on whether charter school teachers are considered government employees. In particular, are charter schools sufficiently “governmental” that they can participate in
Monday’s post, “Dealing with disingenuous teachers unions: There are no shortcuts,” sparked a wave of discussion and criticism—which, let’s face it, is every writer’s hope. But I wasn’t just trying to be provocative; we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute strongly believe that issues of governance and politics have been too often ignored in the education reform debate. We’re happy to help put these issues at the top of the policy agenda. In fact, we’ve teamed up with the Center for American Progress on a three-year project to do exactly that. (Join us on December 1st in Washington, D.C.—or online—for a groundbreaking conference on the topic.)
Diane got right to the heart of the matter when she wrote, “Gosh, Mike, it sounds as though you have identified the real problem that ‘reformers’ face: democracy.”
My knee-jerk reaction, which I zapped to her instantly over email, was that union-dominated school boards represent a perversion of democracy. Just as liberals complain about the “one percent” corrupting our politics through unlimited campaign financing, so too do public sector unions thwart the public will by buying off officeholders with their own lavish spending and political muscle. And this problem is multiplied in education, what with its separate boards, which are often elected in off-cycle, low-turnout contests, making them even more accessible to “capture” by employee interest groups.
That’s all true, I believe—at least
About the Editor
Michael J. Petrilli
Executive Vice President
Mike Petrilli is one of the nation's foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization's research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter.
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