Second Response From Diane Ravitch

Ed Note – All week Eric Hanushek and Diane Ravitch have discussed and debated the pros and cons of more assertive policies to deselect the lowest-performing teachers.  Hanushek started on Monday, Ravitch responded on Tuesday, again Hanushek on Wednesday, and here is Ravitch with the final installment today.  Many thanks to both of them for this discussion.

By Diane Ravitch

I made two arguments in my first blog. Rick seems to have misunderstood both. Let me try again.

My first point is that the dramatic benefits he promises if schools fire 5-10 percent of teachers is not based on real world evidence. It is a talking point, not a policy.

Rick is a respected economist. When he tells policymakers that firing the “bottom 5-10 percent” of teachers would boost U.S. performance to that of high-achieving nations, they believe him. They think there is actual evidence that a systematic “deselection” policy will generate massive, miracle improvements over a relatively short period of time.

But no such evidence exists.

If Rick believes that firing based on comprehensive evaluation ratings comprised of multiple measures will produce the same results as “deselecting” teachers based solely on their ability to raise test scores, he’s entitled to that opinion. But he is just speculating. And he’s probably wrong.

Rick’s calculation is based entirely on wide variation in value-added scores in math only. Most teachers do not even receive value-added scores, and nobody – including Rick – can say how even well-designed evaluations will vary, or how well they will measure teachers’ ability to promote cognitive and non-cognitive skills, both of which should be valued outcomes. Rick can’t say how widespread “deselection” policies will affect the labor supply, or morale and teamwork. He can’t say whether these annual firings will hurt poor schools that already have very high turnover. In other words, he can’t say how his hypothetical calculation will play out in the real world.

I agree with Rick that administrators should fire bad teachers. In fact, it happens all the time. Teachers are easily and routinely dismissed in their first three or four years. If there are incompetent teachers who have tenure, they should get a chance to improve, and, if they can’t or won’t improve, they should be dismissed, after a fair hearing.

But it is irresponsible for Rick to claim, without qualification, that his formula for firings will increase student performance to the level of Finland or Canada within ten years.

The second, more important point I was trying to make in my response was that “deselection” by itself is not the best course of action if our goal is to improve the quality of American education.

We can’t fire our way to excellence.

It’s not that simple.

We need to change the recruitment of teachers. Entry standards should be set much higher. Before they are hired, prospective teachers should have at least a year of study and training, in addition to their undergraduate degree in academic studies. Once teachers are in the classroom, they should get support from mentors. If new teachers had better working conditions and consistent support, there would be less turnover. Instead of focusing on “deselecting” teachers, we should concentrate instead on recruiting better qualified people into the profession and making sure that new teachers have a fair chance to improve and succeed.

We should do whatever is necessary to raise the status of the teaching profession and make it truly professional so as to stop the current revolving door policy of high attrition and turnover. A policy of “deselection” will create needless turnover among teachers who might have become great teachers had they only been given the help they needed.

Unlike university work, where scholars often work alone, teaching is a collaborative enterprise – teachers share what they know with colleagues and often work with other teachers. Morale matters. The real purpose of evaluations by supervisors and peers should be to foster improvement among teachers, not “deselect” them.

The fact that Rick supports efforts to improve and support current teachers is exactly what makes his “5-10 percent” talking point so perplexing. Rick’s simulation shows only that teachers vary widely in how they affect math scores. By itself, this is not evidence that “deselection” will produce huge results.

Rick uses this argument often and without clarification. He fails to explain that its promised benefits are hypothetical and highly unlikely to hold up in real world implementation. He has allowed himself to become associated with a simplistic, uni-dimensional approach that belies his knowledge and actual beliefs. The endless repetition of his argument has convinced some people that all we need to do is “deselect,” and we’ll be Finland in ten years. This is unlikely, to say the least.

As it happens, I just returned from a week in Finland, where I visited schools and talked to teachers, principals, and university researchers. Finland did not rise to the top of international performance in reading, mathematics, and science by “deselecting” teachers. Entry into teacher education programs is highly competitive. Teaching is a respected profession. Every teacher must have a masters’ degree. There is very little attrition, very little turnover, and certainly no “deselection” of teachers. Finland administers no standardized tests until the end of secondary schooling; it trusts its teachers’ judgments about student progress. They are professionals, after all.

Finland improved its performance by long-term, intelligent action: by a steady investment in the recruitment, support, and retention of teachers. We should do the same.

104 thoughts on “Second Response From Diane Ravitch

  1. Stuart Buck

    Still no apology to Rick Hanushek for misrepresenting his point of view . . .

    “Finland did not rise to the top of international performance in reading, mathematics, and science by “deselecting” teachers. Entry into teacher education programs is highly competitive.”

    You obviously think that Finland’s teachers are much smarter and more accomplished than our teachers. So what would you do with all of the U.S. teachers who, as you imply, would never get a job in Finland in the first place? That’s the rub. You seem to think that we should just keep employing them (for possibly the next 30 years), while “helping” them become better.

    Where’s the evidence that your plan will work?

  2. daprofessor

    Let me get this right, Ravitch says the fatal flaw in Hanushek’s argument is that he has no real world evidence for the policy he’s proposing that we adopt because the policy has never been adopted so we can’t actually observe in the real world how such a policy played out?

    Does anyone else find this just a bit silly? Economists HAVE to make predictions by modeling data all of the time! We would never make a single economic policy decision in any arena unless we relied on estimates derived from models of behavior that are not all encompassing. The reason Hanushek can’t do a perfect experiment here with “real data” is because Ravitch and her friends would never go for such a thing?

    If Ravitch et al are really interested in science and finding out the truth of whether Hanushek’s proposal would work in practice let’s randomly select 50 of the largest 100 school districts in the U.S. and “treat” 50 of them with Hanushek’s “fire the worst 10 percent” solution and then don’t do anything else to the other 50 percent.

    If everyone cares about what’s best for kids and “the research evidence” such a proposal should be agreed to in principal by everyone. I’m astounded when Ravitch writes”

    “Rick is a respected economist. When he tells policymakers that firing the “bottom 5-10 percent” of teachers would boost U.S. performance to that of high-achieving nations, they believe him. They think there is actual evidence that a systematic “deselection” policy will generate massive, miracle improvements over a relatively short period of time. But no such evidence exists.”

    In a word, duh! I’m sure Diane’s personal financial investor can’t also give her data on the performance of her mutual funds 5 years down the road either because the data exists. I doubt very much Diane doesn’t also expect that economist to make predictions based on the best models out there.

  3. evidence_anyone

    Ravitch writes:

    “I agree with Rick that administrators should fire bad teachers. In fact, it happens all the time. Teachers are easily and routinely dismissed in their first three or four years. If there are incompetent teachers who have tenure, they should get a chance to improve, and, if they can’t or won’t improve, they should be dismissed, after a fair hearing.”

    My reaction:

    How can Ravitch say that teachers are easily and routinely dismissed all the time for poor performance. Not pedophilia, performance. Name me one school district that routinely exits 10 percent of teachers based on their classroom performance each year. There is no way she can do that. Hell, I’ll even take a peer reviewed study that shows as much in a respected journal.

  4. Paul Thomas

    The scapegoating of teachers and the distraction about teacher quality are both used to keep most people from starting with the actual problems at the root of educational quality.

    I have never seen any argument that teacher quality is THE or one of the main problems with student outcomes. Overwhelmingly, THE problem includes the inequity in any child’s life OUTSIDE of school and then the inequity experienced once that child enters school.

    Hanushek’s work, whether intentional or not, is interjected into the reform debate carelessly. Ravitch always offers nuance, historical perspective, and reality—three things the new reformers want to ignore.

  5. madness

    paul thomas,

    you can’t be as dumb as you sound.

    yes, hanushek and everyone on his side of this debate knows full well that poverty is a larger predictor of student learning outcomes than teacher quality.

    but teacher quality is:

    1) more under a policy-maker’s control
    2) the most important “school level” factor influencing learning outcomes
    3) a more economically efficient lever to fix

    what would your policy proposal be? just hand out 10,000 to a poor kid’s family every year hoping they would spend it wisely and end the cycle of poverty? i mean seriously you want to go war on poverty 2.0?

    the reason teacher effectiveness is seized on has nothing to do with scapegoating, it has to do with the fact that improving the instruction given to poor kids holds much more promise as a lever to eradicate poverty for this country longterm than does a bunch more 1960s style war on poverty programs that cost more and have proven inefficient.

  6. Attorney DC

    Paul Thomas is right on the money: “The scapegoating of teachers and the distraction about teacher quality are both used to keep most people from starting with the actual problems at the root of educational quality. I have never seen any argument that teacher quality is THE or one of the main problems with student outcomes.”

    I would add that studies I have seen estimate that in-school factors account for only a small percentage of a child’s overall academic performance (less than 20%, I believe). I seem to remember reading these statistics in either books by Abigail and Stephen Thernstrom or, possibly, the Bell Curve. In any event, Paul Thomas is correct in that focusing all this attention on teacher quality is an ineffective approach (especially since easy to use and accurate measures of teacher quality do not exist).

  7. Mary MacKinnon

    Finland leads for more than their teacher selection process. While that is a huge part of the formula, there is much more support to education than teachers. The other part of their formula is low poverty rates. Few children live in poverty. Families are supported with good health care stating before pregnancy, mom’s are paid to stay home, child care providers have masters in early childhood, and healthy habits are a bigger part of their culture including nutrition. The American magic pill doesn’t exist. It hasn’t work for obesity problem. It hasn’t worked for rage. We need to start thinking about people (students) in the bigger context in which they exist. We can’t “fix” one area, instead we need a comprehensive plan to eliminate poverty (through good jobs), promote healthy life styles, expect educational excellence, and promote national health. But that means economic health for all including reducing the fat of the top. Pointing fingers away from them, promotes our number 1 problem that has a strangle hold on every sector of this nation…unregulated greed.

  8. Herb

    The problem with Hanushek’s argument is that it’s based on a statistical artifact that has limited basis in reality. This is actually the problem with a lot of Hanushek’s arguments. He runs beautiful and interesting econometric analyses but doesn’t bother to interpret them in the context of reality. In this case, he modeled value-added scores between US, Finnish and Canadian teachers and found that, as a group, the US sample would mirror the averages of the Canadian and Finnish samples if you lopped off the bottom 5-10%. All that means is that it’s possible to make that US sample look like those Finnish and Canadian samples by adjusting the average scores upward. What that doesn’t mean is that if you go into a particular school or school district and systematically fire teachers in the bottom 5-10% of value-added scores you’ll get huge improvement every time. There are too many other variables at play in those contexts that deliberately aren’t considered in those statistical analyses. Anyone with a foot in the real world would understand this.

    What folks like Hanushek need to do is take their data to practitioners and policymakers who actually work in and with schools and school districts and talk to them about what it could mean in terms of policy and practice. That’s the role of research (and I say this as a researcher myself). Economists and other academics almost always run into trouble when they try to turn their findings into policy prescriptions. That’s not their forte and it’s not their role, really. A few researchers are able to do both well, but it’s rare. (Ravitch is no exception here. Her insights are valuable, but the policy prescriptions she turns them into are often lacking.)

  9. Stuart Buck

    “I would add that studies I have seen estimate that in-school factors account for only a small percentage of a child’s overall academic performance (less than 20%, I believe).”

    So what? This is an education blog, and you’re talking to a group of people who are interested in what goes on within schools. If the only thing you care about is poverty, then go hang out with sociologists who study poverty or people who work in soup kitchens or whatever, and try to figure out whatever issues they struggle with.

    But in a group of people that happens to be interested in schools, it isn’t helpful or relevant to always be saying, “The thing that you care about isn’t important, so you should really be talking about the thing that I think is more important.”

    I mean, do you show up for discussions about how to fix malaria in Africa to lecture them about how they should quit because AIDS is actually way more important? That’s fine to think that, but you can’t expect people to quit trying to address malaria just because it isn’t your number one topic.

  10. Rita S

    My initial reaction is this. Dr. Ravitch accurately points out that Mr. Hanushek’s theory is a talking point — not a policy. As a talking point, it reflects an economist’s speculation.

    To quote from a respondent above: DAPROFESSOR

    ……Economists HAVE to make predictions by modeling data all of the time! We would never make a single economic policy decision in any arena unless we relied on estimates derived from models of behavior that are not all encompassing……….

    These predictions are speculative and nearly always financial in nature. As in a mutual fund, these economist’s predictions are risks. Some people take risks with their money using modeling data – nevertheless it is a “risk.” Mutual fund owners and stockholders are repeatedly told they venture into these arenas “at their own risks.” You can’t hold the economist to blame if you lose your shirt in the stock market based upon his predictions.

    To take an economist’s model and attempt to translate that to someone’s livelihood or to our children’s future is not a risk I’m willing to take as a parent or grandparent.

    Many economists have turned this nation upside down with inaccurate predictions encouraging people to take risks. I would never risk my livelihood nor my child’s future on an economist’s data model. That makes no sense.

    I’ve been involved as a parent volunteer in the school system for 15 yrs. I’ve seen the decline in the content thanks to failed NCLB policies and incessant focus on high stakes tests. I’ve seen good teachers leave because of the lack of respect and I’ve seen new teachers axed before they were vested (3 yrs).

    How do you explain the non-unionized teachers? You say it is impossible to fire a teacher yet you neglect to mention those who are not in the union.

    Last I looked FL’s teachers had less than 50% unionized.

    Again, Hanushek’s formula is a talking point not a policy. And it is simply not transferable to our nation’s public education system.

  11. madness

    stuart,

    don’t bother. these people posting about poverty don’t understand research design. as others in the thread pointed out, they similarly don’t understand that policy-makers have more control over what goes on in a school building than what goes on at home. it’s hopeless with some of these people. they have probably never read roland fryer’s paper on the harlem children’s zone that finds the ancillary “supports” (non-school squishy stuff) had no causal impact on student learning, but that they high quality instruction in HCZ charters did have a huge impact.

    p.s. can we all stop using finland as a comparison point? finland is the size of minnesota for one. for another thing, finland does not have a gigantic country with huge poverty to the south of it that sends millions of illegals into finland each year. face it, the u.s. is different because millions of people in poverty WANT TO COME HERE. you can’t have an endless welfare state and open borders. that doesn’t work folks.

  12. GGW

    Let me see if I can boil it down in a way both sides would agree to.

    1. Ravitch would raise standards for those who would like to become teachers. That is, forbid some people from becoming teachers based on their undergrad GPA, or SATs, or something. Correct? “Raise standards” means “block some people who don’t meet the new standards.”

    2. Hanushek would raise standards for people who are already teaching. That is, forbid some people from continuing to teach, based on observers and test scores showing them teaching badly.

    I prefer 2.

  13. daprofessor

    rita,

    economists aren’t the only ones that have to speculate. policy-makers don’t have access to rigorous randomized field experiments on these important questions because NEA/AFT and Ravitch’s crowd won’t let them!

    let’s try and be constructive/specific here:

    Let’s start with a population: 100 largest school districts in U.S.
    Let’s agree we have a problem: low student achievement, esp. among low-income kids
    Let’s say we have some folks pitching a solution call it solution X: fire the lowest performing 10 percent of teachers in a district

    Do we want to know whether solution X has a causal impact on improving the outcomes we care about: higher graduation rates? college completion rates among students in those districts?

    Solution to get us some “non speculative” knowledge since you don’t like that…

    Easy: Randomize the 100 districts. 50 are treated with the fire the lowest 10 percent, 50 are not and continue standard human resources practices.

    Observed outcomes in treatment districts – observed outcomes in control districts give you a causal estimate with *oh my god* real data!

    Now who here will go for this? Don’t you all care about science? Real knowledge?

  14. Jupiter Mom

    Interesting that a poster (madness) talks about the Harlem Children’s Zone- a program that does focus on helping children access education despite their SES situation. And he goes on to talk about how the poor drive down ed scores in his PS.

    You cannot add when you are subtracting. It’s that simple. When you have to create programs like TFA to find teachers to fill classrooms, there is a problem. If you want to increase teacher quality- you need to increase the requirements and the pay. If teaching becomes a more desirable and prestigious job, you’ll have no problem with poor quality teachers. But, reducing job benefits and making it less secure for teachers will only create more problems. Mostly it will create the problem of a revolving door of teachers. This isn’t good for anyone.

  15. Diana Senechal

    Yes, as an earlier commenter pointed out, economists have to make predictions, BUT the predictions have to pass muster. Hanushek’s do not. Diane is right ont that point.

    What’s wrong with the idea that if we fired the bottom 5-10 percent of teachers, student achievement in this country would rise to the level of Finland? Many problems have already mentioned, so I will bring up two more: (a) the inadequate curricula in our schools; and (b) the persistence of failure in human life.

    We talk so much about achievement but do not adequately address the question “achievement of what?” This explains, in part, why “literacy” scores are much more stubborn and difficult to raise than math scores. There is no such subject as literacy, and we are spinning our wheels trying to teach it. There is literature, grammar, rhetoric, composition. Teach those things, and you will see some gains. (Math curricula are far from perfect in this country–but at least, in comparison with literacy curricula, they have some sort of substance and sequence.)

    As for the persistence of failure, consider Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground. The Underground Man (who is wrong about many things–he’s by no means by hero) notes that there is something more precious to humans than happiness, and this thing is free will. If presented with a formula for a perfect world, many of us would reject it for no other reason than to demonstrate that we were human and not an organ-stop. While the Underground Man contradicts himself and creates his own traps, he puts forth a profound truth here. There is a need in human nature for some sort of failure, some sort of rejection of a perfect world.

    Now, this does not mean that schools cannot get better or that students on the whole cannot do much better. They can. But to improve the schools, we must lift the level overall. Trying to get rid of failure will get us nowhere. It will come back to plague us. Finns have failure too. Look inside their schools, and I bet you’ll find many children who are having trouble with their studies. The difference is that the overall level is higher than here, and students at all levels get adequate help and challenge.

    Also–and this may sound counterintuitive–often students do poorly in school precisely because they are not being challenged enough. It is easier in some ways to learn difficult material than to learn easy material; the brain goes into full gear. Also, once the student tackles difficult subjects, failure becomes a natural part of the process. (No fear of a perfect world when we’ve got trigonometry problems to stump and intrigue us.)

    So, how to raise that overall level? For one thing, restore the integrity of the subjects. Teach literature, not reading comprehension. Teach mathematics in depth, not by hopping from topic to topic. Prepare teachers who are nimble thinkers–who enjoy thinking of a topic from this and that angle, who can anticipate questions and misunderstandings, and who enjoy thinking about the subject on their own.

    Pay attention to the subjects themselves, raise the level of challenge, learn to work intelligently with failure, and not only will our schools get better, but we will have a clearer understanding of what “achievement” means in the first place. Yes, teachers who really aren’t up to par will have to be let go, but that’s not what will make the schools improve. It’s our thought about the subjects, among other things, that will make the difference.

  16. Attorney DC

    To Mr. Buck and others who question my concern with other factors that effect student performance:

    I worked as a teacher. In several different schools (rich and poor). In low-income schools (and some higher income schools), I saw most teachers trying very hard to teach students who came to school with serious emotional and behavior problems along with academic deficits. Most of these students also had problems with attendance, doing homework, in-school behavior and other problems.

    My point isn’t that we should simply throw our hands up and give up on these kids. It’s that focusing 99% of our energy on targeting teachers had not been shown to fix anything, and likely won’t fix anything. If you want to know my solution to academic performance problems among low-income, minority students, I would propound the following:

    1. Make serious efforts at curbing teenage pregnancy in the low-income, minority population. Children of low-income, single mothers do VERY poorly in school, on average. Why not attack the problem from the front end, rather than deal with the effects on the back end (at school).

    2. Make student behavior the number one concern at low-income schools. Principals and school districts should support teachers who try to enforce basic behavior standards. Having worked in low-income, minority schools, I’ve seen that student misbehavior (from refusing to follow directions to shouting and cursing at fellow students and teachers) SERIOUSLY impedes efforts of teachers to teach and SERIOUSLY impacts the fellow students in the class, making it almost impossible to get any learning done in these classrooms.

  17. madness

    Jupiter you wrote:
    “Interesting that a poster (madness) talks about the Harlem Children’s Zone- a program that does focus on helping children access education despite their SES situation. And he goes on to talk about how the poor drive down ed scores in his PS.”

    I’d encourage you to read Dr. Fryer (one of the nation’s most respected Economists btw) research on HCZ. You can find the link here:

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=roland%20fryer%20hcz&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBoQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.economics.harvard.edu%2Ffaculty%2Ffryer%2Ffiles%2Fhcz%25204.15.2009.pdf&ei=6r2yTqiRO-Te2AXstqTzAw&usg=AFQjCNF6nCaBe1HDa_62Epek1rkD_78HBQ&cad=rja

    Dr. Fryer finds CAUSAL evidence (remember this is a randomized study) that HCZ students succeed because of the HCZ instruction itself NOT THE ANCILLARY SERVICES which were available to all students in “the zone” not only the lotteried in students who got access to the charter school.

    Now, yes, I did point out that the U.S. deals with poverty as a problem. I don’t see how that makes my argument any less valid. I just asked posters to stop salivating over the Finland model since Finland is about the size of many U.S. states and also does not have half the world trying to emigrate to it for economic opportunity from third world countries. I would never say poverty doesn’t matter. What I would say is that effective teachers can overcome poverty in terms of VALUE ADDED gains. Value added gains have little to no correlation with raw levels of student achievement.

    Jupiter, you also wrote:

    “If you want to increase teacher quality- you need to increase the requirements and the pay. If teaching becomes a more desirable and prestigious job, you’ll have no problem with poor quality teachers. But, reducing job benefits and making it less secure for teachers will only create more problems. Mostly it will create the problem of a revolving door of teachers. This isn’t good for anyone.”

    I think we would agree that you have to make the job more prestigious, but that’s what TFA does. It makes it prestigious by making it selective. In American culture two things drive prestige (I would argue): money (compensation) and selectivity. TFA has used selectivity as a lever. You could also use money (as the mckinsey survey research suggests).

    Using job security is an awful idea. Survey after survey and research in human resources tells us that the brightest people (people with the best skill sets) want to be judged based on their performance and they do not want to work in organizations with colleagues who have job security that is unconnected to performance.

  18. Attorney DC

    To follow up on my previous post above, with regard to the student discipline issue, I found that principals in many schools flatly refuse to assist teachers to enforce behavior rules and standards.

    Some principals actively act to overturn discipline that is meted out by teachers (for example, pressuring a teacher to cancel an after school detention when a parent or coach complains). Some principals tell all the teachers to “handle it” on their own and, for example, immediately return to the classroom any child who is sent to the office. In one low-income junior high school I worked in, the principal refused to hold school-wide detentions, telling the teachers that they should each stay after school to administer detention to any one student (which is completely ineffecient and creates a huge disincentive for teachers to assign detention).

    I would refer you to books like “Standing and Delivering” (written by Jaime Escalante’s former principal) which describe effective, school-wide strategies that can make large positive changes in the behavior of all the students in a school.

  19. Stuart Buck

    Attorney — I agree with your two recommendations. Let’s do those things too.

    But it’s not either-or — either address teenage pregnancy or try to move the absolute worst teachers into another career. I really don’t understand the utter non sequiturs being suggested here: “Poverty and teenage pregnancy are really important; therefore, the worst teachers should keep their jobs and we’ll cross our fingers hoping that they get better.”

  20. Anthony Cody

    Do the proponents of firing teachers as a systemic solution seriously assert that this has never been attempted in modern history, and thus is an untested and possibly worthy innovation? The American landscape is littered with schools that have been “restructured,” their staff reassigned, replaced by the supposedly superior teachers that were available. Funny thing is, this has rarely succeeded. The problem with Dr. Hanushek’s ideas is not that they have never been attempted. The problem is that they have never worked.

    It is remarkable how we allow “policy levers” to be constrained to things that may make a marginal difference at best, but have the advantage of costing taxpayers little. This is made absurd by the claims by Dr. Hanushek that his recommendations will yield such dramatic educational and economic improvements. The clamor over the supposedly widespread and calamitous bad teachers arrives just as we are plunged into a deeper economic crisis, and poverty has greatly worsened. How convenient for the top one percent that this issue is taken off the table by some researchers.

  21. daprofessor

    “Do the proponents of firing teachers as a systemic solution seriously assert that this has never been attempted in modern history, and thus is an untested and possibly worthy innovation?”

    I would say that yes this would be a huge innovation. We’ve only had reasonably comprehensive student assessment data available in a majority of states since around 2000. We’ve only recently begun to link that data to individual teachers.

    To the best of my knowledge the only attempt to fire the lowest performing teachers leveraging off of this assessment data is from IMPACT in DC. And we all know what happened at places like Sousa Middle school that actually did that.

    You can’t compare “restructuring” which just means firing EVERYONE and making everyone reapply for jobs to Hanushek’s proposal which would require using measures to identify the weakest 10 percent and replace them with folks who aren’t in that range. Has not been done systematically in U.S. education.

    If you know that it has been, please contact NYTimes — you’d likely get a full spread story in the Sunday edition of the Mag with such a find. Ark of the Covenant stuff.

  22. Anthony Cody

    And there we get to the cruel heart of this supposed reform. Teachers are only accountable for around 20% of the variation in test scores. So we are supposed to take a factor, in which 80% of the variation is beyond the teacher’s control, and make teachers 100% accountable for it. If you think this is a way to increase the caliber of people choosing to enter this profession, especially in our high poverty schools, you have got another think coming.

  23. daprofessor

    the survey research begs to differ:

    http://mckinseyonsociety.com/closing-the-talent-gap/

    top third talent wants merit pay, bigger front end salaries, and compensation based on performance. do you think all the hotshots who graduate from ivy league schools prefer jobs with seniority, pay divorced from performance, and industrial models of human resources? really? why do so many of our top third graduates flock to volatile professions like law and banking where many things beyond their control result in them getting the boot if they don’t perform?

  24. daprofessor

    Also you’re WRONG when you write: Teachers are only accountable for around 20% of the variation in test scores.

    You’re mixing up test score growth with baseline student performance on tests. Yes 80 percent of baseline test score performance is based on socio-economic status of the student/family background, but there is little to no correlation between poverty and GROWTH.

  25. Anthony Cody

    So here we go. We are engaged in a social engineering project, where we want to change the teaching profession from one that attracts primarily altruistic, idealistic, caring people, into one that takes would be lawyers and hedge fund managers and offers them instead the high risk, high rewards opportunities that come from educating hard knock inner city kids who are two or three years below grade level. Get them up to grade level and snag that $3000 bonus! This is a pipe dream if ever there was one.

  26. Attorney DC

    To daprofessor: Actually, there is a relationship between poverty and academic growth. I believe it is true that in general, lower income students make less growth each year than higher income students. This isn’t surprising, given that (from what I’ve read) low-income and minority students are absent more often, change schools more frequently, and have less support at home, among other reasons.

  27. daprofessor

    Attorney DC,

    That just isn’t factually correct.

    The EVAAS system created for value-added by Sanders has produced graph after graph in NC, TN, OH that show poverty has a WEAK to non-existent correlation with GROWTH in student proficiency. You can just google EVAAS and find the impressive charts in TN yourself.

    That’s the entire point of why growth models are a better approach than NCLB’s focus on raw scores. We can be more certain that school/teacher effects are driving growth rather than poverty. If anything it’s harder for rich and affluent kids to IMPROVE and raise their GROWTH because they are already scoring at the upper heights.

  28. daprofessor

    for the record, i’ve not had one taker on my randomized experiment suggestion above! wow, we have a lot of folks invested in the status quo who nonetheless supposedly favor “science” and “what works” and “rigorous research evidence” yet no takers on randomly assigning hanushek’s policy as a treatment.

  29. Attorney DC

    To daprofessor: I guess it depends in part in how you define “growth” with regard to student performance. I’ve seen studies that show, for example, that African-American students enter kindergarten scoring, on average, lower than other students and that they fall farther behind as the years progress. This would demonstrate to me that this group of students is ‘growing’ less each year than their peers are growing.

    However, if you define growth by saying that a student who scores in the 90th percentile on the 4th grade proficiency test does not ‘show growth’ unless that same student scores above 90th percentile on the fifth grade proficiency test (which measures the new skills learned in fifth grade), then, yes, I would agree that it may be hard to ‘show growth’ with high-performing kids. Depends on how you measure it.

    However, I’ve read that IMPACT scores on student growth are much lower in low-income DC schools than in the higher income DC schools, causing many more teachers in low-income schools to be rated lower on their performance evaluations. In the real world, it’s hard for low-income kids to improve significantly in a given school year.

  30. daprofessor

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree on what the research says about air-tight connection (or lack of connection) between value-added gains and poverty.

    However, I don’t think it’s stretching the best research on this subject to far to agree on the following facts:

    1. Some teachers and schools are, even with poverty factored in, much better at improving kids learning outcomes from where those kids came in to start (baseline performance)
    2. That improvement in academic learning that these top teachers/schools get for kids will matter significantly in their lives
    3. Because of 1 and 2 we should more or less settle on a human resources policy in public education that removes those teachers or shuts down those schools that consistently do worse (bottom 10 percent) on IMPROVING kids learning gains from where those kids started

    I just don’t think this is a very controversial policy position. Perhaps that’s why it’s not a surprise that three quarters of the American public told PDK in the latest annual survey that they thought teacher pay ought to be connected to gains in student learning outcomes….

  31. daprofessor

    Anthony Cody you are downright disingenuous in debating these important issues.

    You write:

    “So here we go. We are engaged in a social engineering project, where we want to change the teaching profession from one that attracts primarily altruistic, idealistic, caring people, into one that takes would be lawyers and hedge fund managers and offers them instead the high risk, high rewards opportunities that come from educating hard knock inner city kids who are two or three years below grade level. Get them up to grade level and snag that $3000 bonus! This is a pipe dream if ever there was one.”

    First of all, the McKinsey research that I presented in my previous post does not suggest that it would be a sensible policy to simply try and get Wall Street types to flock into teaching for a few years to snag a $3,000 bonus.

    If you actually read what I wrote as well as the McKinsey report, what was said was this: according to top-third graduates, the things that would get them to go into teaching were:

    1) 20,000 better pay from the start (only risk averse second-income earners want to wait around and be paid based on breaths consumed)
    2) Minimum bonuses based on 20 percent of their top salary for high performance (that would mean if a starting salary under the +20k in pay noted in #1 were 55 or 65k, we’re talking about a performance based incentive of 10 grand for starting teachers and much much more over time.

    No one is talking about a pipe dream. What we’re talking about is ditching a compensation system that has long drawn people into the profession by dangling income security (slow and steady pay) and high benefits later in life RATHER than a dynamic compensation system that rewards innovation, market-based talent (STEM degrees vs. Phys Ed), and high risk high reward approaches to pay.

    We know full well that today’s best and brightest don’t want to work in a field that uses 20th century industrial model compensation. Today’s best and brightest are drawn to selective occupations that aggressively recruit talent and reward it with some serious cash. I’m sorry that it’s no longer 1950 and the Oakland School System can’t rely on getting Sandra Day O’Conner with her Stanford JD to go into teaching because she’s too feminine to hold down a real law job. Those days are long gone my friend.

  32. Mike

    If wealth is not important then why do the wealthiest communities have the best results? Don’t hear any demands on improving teachers in those communities (or private schools). Why is that states with the strongest unions and presumably greater teacher protections have the best results on NAEP? It seems to me that the critics are opportunists seeking to profit by denying the real cause of poor results: poverty. Best example is Michelle Rhee. She reportedly earns $35,000 to $50,000 per speaking engagement. Failed as D.C. Chancellor, and her claimed successes as a teacher soundly debunked.

  33. daprofessor

    Mike,

    Why don’t you take a college level statistics class before asking such stupid questions. Seriously? We’ve been engaged in an intense debate here over value-added gains on student assessment and you bring in baseline NAEP scores to make a point. Wow, I really think we need to move to appointed school boards. Presumably people out there are voting based on this sort of understanding of education reform!

  34. Mike

    I guess anything that disputes your baseless arguments is stupid! Value added is stupid. These debates have been raging for many years and yet no improvement. I’ve seen new new approaches come and go and improvements fail to materialize. Quite frankly I’m sick and tired of self-proclaimed experts profiting professionally and/or financially from the intractable educational problems brought on by poverty. Wealth/Poverty have the clearest correlation to educational success in any study based on existing facts that I have ever seen. You might want to check some excellent articles on the Shanker blog.

  35. KYTeacher

    daprofessor,

    You stated, per the McKinsey research, that the top third graduates would enter teaching if bonuses were provided connected to performance.

    How would performance be evaluated? Would this be through an evaluation process that would incorporate multiple measures? Or would performance be determined through test scores? If teacher performance were to be based upon test scores, then could this not encourage cheating, as was seen in Georgia? And what about those teachers of subjects that are not tested? Does this suggest that only select teachers are ever eligible for said bonuses?

    I’m not for or against this idea, but I do wonder as to the logistics of this ‘proposal’ that would be fair for all educators.

  36. daprofessor

    @Mike… we’ll talk once you take a stats course, understand basic research design, and can offer citations to scholarly research that extend beyond a think tank named after the most famous teacher union president ever. Pardon me while I laugh a bit at that one.

    @NYTeacher: Top third graduates don’t seem much to care about having a system that is perfectly fair. No such system exists in the private sector, and yet, the best and brightest flock to the private sector for jobs that are lucrative, selective, and do not simply pay all employees for steps and lanes.

  37. Leonie Haimson

    “If Ravitch et al are really interested in science and finding out the truth of whether Hanushek’s proposal would work in practice let’s randomly select 50 of the largest 100 school districts in the U.S. and “treat” 50 of them with Hanushek’s “fire the worst 10 percent” solution and then don’t do anything else to the other 50 percent.”

    Just 50 of the largest school districts?

    Another large-scale experiment with millions of kids lives! Experiment on your own kids; not on mine, thank you very much.

    Until we have a replicable, reliable and fair teacher evaluation system that has been proven to work) this is an idiotic idea.

  38. daprofessor

    Oh Leonie,

    As if I didn’t anticipate someone would raise this objection. We could always try this treacherous “experiment” of firing the lowest-performing teachers in a randomly selected sample of the lowest-performing schools to assuage your sincere concerns about harming kids by firing educators who can’t move value-added growth year after year.

    I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? We’d accidentally disrupt the nirvana that are large urban school districts today that are clearly knocking the ball out of the park on educational outcomes for their poor kids of color?

  39. Mike

    I’ll mention a simple actual classroom story that occurred to me about 15 years ago. I had a class of “repeaters” in economics. The majority of the students made little or no effort so I warned them that most of the class might fail. One student responded: you can’t do that! They will blame you! The student who made that statement had a very poor record but that much he knew. As long as the onus for learning is on teachers rather than students achievement will continue to decline. Poverty is the issue. If that is not resolved all this talk of value added etc is a distraction allowing some to profit handsomely.

  40. Mike

    I guess some individual’s careers depend on bashing teachers since they probably have nothing else to bring to the table.

  41. Diana Senechal

    The McKinsey researchers examined teacher recruitment and retention in Singapore, Finland, and South Korea. They found many factors that make teaching an attractive profession in those countries: salary, job security, autonomy and trust, cultural respect, and more. Given their own findings, it’s odd that they or anyone would conclude that financial incentives should reign supreme. And there were things they should have investigated but didn’t–for instance, the intellectual and spiritual appeal of the profession.

    Look at the talented people in professions where the pay is decent but not stellar–the arts, humanities, teaching, scholarship, nonprofits, journalism, and more. What brings people to these professions? Not incompetence, but interest. The work has substance.

    But when the substance is driven out, when the work turns into busywork, people turn to professions that offer the combination of qualities that they seek.

  42. Mike

    Oh and by the way. There have been several articles that have shown that paying teachers bonuses did not improve outcome. The vast majority of teachers I worked with did their best under often under very difficult circumstances regardless of pay levels. I believe Dianne Ravitch can refer you to articles about pay and performance in education.

  43. Margaret

    I guess the experience of major league sports, GE, and most large law firms doesn’t count? We have decades of experience weeding out the lowest performers, all based a select number of performance measures that are applied universally to all the members of the class.

    I don’t see how the teaching force can achieve the status of professionalism they aspire to if they are not willing to acknowledge that their work requires a significant standard of performance and be willing to enforce that standard without apology.

  44. Mike

    @daprofessor Seems you have a problem with anyone who disagrees with you.
    So easy to blame teachers under the veneer of scholarly research.

  45. Attorney DC

    Mike: I appreciate your comments. Your example of the class from 15 years ago is scarily true today: Many students have now been conditioned to think that all failure is the fault of the teacher (both academic and behavioral failure). Principals and parents often support this notion. That is insane! If you blame teachers when high school students skip class or don’t study, the students will be the losers in the long run.

  46. Mike

    @Attorney DC Thank you for saying this. It’s maddening to me to see what is happening to our public schools. I’m retired and tried to ignore it but still find myself getting involved in these discussions. These attacks on teachers cannot be helpful under any circumstances in my opinion.

  47. Mike

    @Margaret That’s right, each ball player has to earn their place. Each student should be responsible for learning. A teacher can only teach but cannot “carve” knowledge into a disinterested student. Perhaps if EVERY high school had a rigorous entrance exam we would have much better outcomes, say like Stuyvesant HS in Manhattan, or Bronx HS of Science, or Brooklyn Tech HS. Of course expecting all students to rise to that challenge would be patently unfair to those growing up in poverty, broken home or even homelessness. But let’s continue the distraction from the real causes of failure…poverty…and continue to blame teachers which is much easier to deal with.

  48. daprofessor

    @Anthony & @Mike who are critiquing the McKinsey-based suggestions for getting top third talent.

    You both note that the research on incentive based pay has found little to no change in student learning, yet there’s an easy response: These studies say nothing about changing teacher selection. adding a meager bonus onto current educator salaries and finding nothing in the way of improved performance among the students taught by those educators in no way represents what the McKinsey research is suggesting for a policy change. The idea is revamping teacher compensation writ large for the purpose of getting more able people into the profession, not to improve the crop of teachers who graduated from the bottom third in non-selective schools that are already there. That’s the problem with studies like the RAND one and the Vanderbilt study. I don’t at all deny that incentive pay won’t do a lick to boost current teacher performance on the whole. The idea is to radically overhaul the pay and evaluation systems so we get top third talent into the profession.

    @Diana
    Yes McKinsey looked at the correlation between how Finland and Korea approach education and what characteristics their educators have, but how is this more relevant than their actual survey of real American college students who are in the top of their class here in the U.S. but are telling us “NO” to teaching because of a lack of a compensation system that is based on productivity and meager starting salaries. Of course, you can’t have a profession that offers no autonomy. I would agree with that. But I’ll gladly give autonomy to our teachers when we finally have top third talent and not directional U students filling our classrooms. Top third talent say they want performance pay.

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