We’d Rather Be in PhiladelphiaJanuary 10, 2011
Ed Reform Highlights from Christie’s State of the StateJanuary 11, 2011
There’s a bit of a contretemps boomeranging around cyberspace between Mike Petrelli of the Fordham Institute and Flypaper and Bruce Baker of Rutgers and SchoolFinance101. Petrelli co-authored with Marguerite Roza (senior data and economics advisor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) a policy paper called “Stretching the School Dollar,” which gives 15 recommendations on ways that state policymakers can save money on education:
1. End “last hired, first fired” practices.
2. Remove class-size mandates.
3. Eliminate mandatory salary schedules.
4. Eliminate state mandates regarding work rules and terms of employment.
5. Remove “seat time” requirements.
6. Merge categorical programs and ease onerous reporting requirements.
7. Create a rigorous teacher evaluation system.
8. Pool health-care benefits.
9. Tackle the fiscal viability of teacher pensions.
10. Move toward weighted student funding.
11. Eliminate excess spending on small schools and small districts.
12. Allocate spending for learning-disabled students as a percent of population.
13. Limit the length of time that students can be identified as English Language Learners.
14. Offer waivers of non-productive state requirements.
15. Create bankruptcy-like loan provisions.
Prof. Baker then responded with a lengthy blogpost (categorized under “Dumbest Stuff I’ve Ever Read! Reformy”) that excoriates the authors and rebuts their recommendations one by one:
I encourage you to explore the utter lack of support (or analysis) that the policy brief provides for any/all of its recommendations. It won’t take much time or effort. Read the footnotes. They are downright embarrassing, and in some cases infuriating. At the very least, they border on THINK TANKY MALPRACTICE. [Emphases his own.]
Whew. Not only that, but Petrelli and Roza’s paper is “the kind of stuff you’d be likely to read in a personal finance column in magazine in a dentist’s office,” amounting to no more than “[r]egurgitation of ‘reformy’ ideology for which there exists absolutely no evidence that the “reforms” in question lead to any improvement in schooling efficiency.”
Mike Petrelli responds to Baker’s attacks in today’s Flypaper, concluding that “for all [Baker’s] spilled ink, he fails to offer a single alternative to the budget cuts we recommend. And as he later admitted via Twitter, that’s because he doesn’t believe states should cut education spending to close their massive budget gaps–they should raise taxes instead.”
Dr. Baker’s reaction may be at least partially explained by the Fordham paper’s inclusion of an item that excites his vitriol: tying teacher evaluations to student academic growth. In fact. Baker has written extensively on how the such practices will lead to “a flood of litigation like none that has ever been witnessed.” If longitudinal data shows that a teacher is ineffective and a district tries to either revoke tenure or withhold a salary increase, the district would be denying a teacher’s “property interest” without adequate due process. And, he says, there are multiple variables that would render test data an unfair metric of teacher performance, including “temporal instability of value-added measures,” non-random assignment of students to teachers, parental support, student motivation, and (this objection he credits to Diane Ravitch) “the students could actually choose to bomb the state assessments to get a teacher fired, whether it’s a good teacher or a bad one. This would most certainly raise due process concerns.”
And that’s only the beginning of the scourge unleashed through teacher accountability. Tying teacher evaluations to student achievement, in fact, will lead to legal claims that will “flood the courts as…dismissals begin:
Claims of racially disparate teacher dismissal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Given that students are not randomly assigned and that poor and minority – specifically black – students are densely clustered in certain schools and districts and that black teachers are much more likely to be working in schools with classrooms of low-income black students, it is highly likely that teacher dismissals will occur in a racially disparate pattern. Black teachers of low-income black students will be several times more likely to be dismissed on the basis of poor value-added test scores. This is especially true where a statewide fixed, rigid requirement is adopted and where a teacher must be de-tenured and/or dismissed if he/she shows value-added below some fixed value-added threshold on state assessments.
Somehow Dr. Baker links the inarguable clustering of less effective teachers in low-performing districts to some sort of racist conspiracy to fire minority teachers. Such a conclusion overlooks the point of value-added measures, which are weighted for economic status and present levels of performance.
He’s not alone in fearing that America’s movement toward education accountability will unduly punish terrific teachers who happen to teach in chronically failing schools. But the irony is that one of the tenets of education reform — rewarding the best teachers and eliminating the worst — could level the playing field for teachers as well as students. If salary guides were based on teacher effectiveness, if professional performance determined lay-offs rather than seniority, then our finest educators would be compensated at comparable levels, regardless of district location. That’s something that parents, schoolchildren, teachers, think tanks, and school finance experts can all get behind.