Run For The Top…

The McKinsey report that Tom Friedman references in his Times column this morning seems likely to cause quite a stir.   Big estimates for GDP gains through educational improvements…over half a trillion annually by closing the achievement gap say the McKinsey analysts…

Update:   Embargo is lifted, you can read the entire report here (pdf).  Several readers want to know what the big deal is since there isn’t a lot in the way of new data in here.   I’d say it’s the symbolism issue, those GDP numbers, albeit estimates, are compelling and will hopefully call some attention to this problem.  Lazy secondhand reax from readers:  Complaints about a lack of specificity on solutions but Arne Duncan gets good reviews for his remarks at the release event today from several attendees.  

17 Replies to “Run For The Top…”

  1. One of Friedman’s daughters is a TFA corps member, though he does not disclose that in the column.

  2. One thing, according to Friedman, the report says: “If America had closed the international achievement gap between 1983 and 1998…”


    What “if” it’s too late?

  3. Sec. Duncan made a very bold statement today that refutes decades of evidence. He said (I paraphrase, but I think if you revisit a transcript the intent remains) that teachers and principals matter more to a student’s achievement growth than race, class, income, etc. In other words he contradicts Coleman, et al., 1966; Jenks and Brown, 1975; and Hanushek, 1992 among many others. Unless Sec. Duncan is sitting on a groundbreaking new study that suddenly refutes the explanatory power of existing and well documented gaps (incarceration, housing, health care, earnings, poverty, unemployment, etc.) that contribute to a student’s achievement growth than I think he needs more than a little staffing in what the research actually says.

  4. Of course Mr. Stone is correct. When Reagan and Bush endorsed Voo Doo economics, how many liberals went along? Scientifically, Duncan has to know that economics trumps the input of teachers and principals. Why are liberals embracing the educational equivalent of Creationism?

    Again, we should recall Adlai Stevenson’s wisdom, “I find St. Paul appealing and St. Peale appalling.”

    Next do we expect bumper stickers that say “E=Mc2 doesn’t sound like a good idea. Besides I don’t believe in scientific laws.” Or, “Gravity Doesn’t Exist. Teachers and Principals suck.”

  5. Of course, in the preceding I mean systemically. Of course, a few outliers that cream can be the exceptions that prove the definitivtely established rules.

  6. Teacher’s don’t matter? That’s news to me. Actually its a great relief when you think about. Now we can stop all those expense programs to raise their pay, lower class size and treat teachers like actual professionals. Lets just hire the cheapest babysitters we can find and use the savings to lower taxes. Thanks guys!

  7. While I have seen much research that shows that the number one predictor of student achievement is family income, I have also seen research that shows that the number one predictor of student acheivement GROWTH is teacher quality. As a high school teacher in a low income community, I would agree with both of these statements based on my personal experience. From what I have read of the Coleman Report, it seems to be measuring achievement, not achievement growth from one year to the next (and one teacher to the next). There is a huge difference between these two evaluation methods. Could someone please elaborate on whether the studies cited by Mr. Stone are measuring achievement or achievement growth?

  8. If teacher quality is trumped by social, economic, and cultural factors, what is all the fuss over teacher quality then? In fact, if a student’s success or failure depends on everything but the school, why even bother with educational institutions? Why bother credentialing teachers, giving them meaningless degrees, making them pass tests, and leap over pointless bureaucratic hurdles? After all, while the socio-cultural pot is boiling outside, all teachers really do is roost and keep all the little chickadees warm, protecting them from external evil until they are big enough to fend for themselves.

    Perhaps the problem here has to do with validation. That is, people still rely on schools in some perverse desire for validation. Ultimately, we really don’t care what it is that they do there, as long as we are or our child is validated and stamped with approval by the education institution, that they’ve passed certain hurdles and are now bestowed with all the rights, responsibilities, and rewards of a so-called education. After all, we are the consumers, even with public education, and we certainly know what we want. We will pressure anything and anyone to conform to those desires, which means validation from the institution, the product, without any real understanding nor appreciable concern for what is done to earn the product or degree or diploma. We need the validation from educational institutions, the certificate, but will do everything we can to diminish, deny, and derogate the authority of those institutions to set strict boundaries or requirements on the attainment of said degree.

    Perhaps I argue here to the extreme, yet we cannot on one hand argue that teacher quality makes no difference, economics do, and then on the other demand specific ways to assess teacher quality.

  9. It’s worth noting that Friedman never trumps anything beyond TFA. I would like to see him write a piece in which he highlights how pay for performance advocates are caught in the trap of the “golden straitjacket” which he coined ten years ago.

  10. Jeff,

    You write, “Perhaps I argue here to the extreme, yet we cannot on one hand argue that teacher quality makes no difference, economics do …”

    That’s what I’m reacting to, all of these extreme statements, as well as the implication of “specific ways to assess teacher quality.” Neither do we have specific ways to assess student performance, at least not in a meaningful way.

    Better teachers, better schools, better systems will make things better for poor kids. Solutions, however, have to be reality-based.

  11. John,

    I certainly do agree that we do not possess adequate ways to measure teacher quality nor student performance. For me then, the question that remains is, what is “reality-based?” Sure, I mean, we all know what reality is. We don’t have to get all philosophical or existential. But whose reality here? Also, based on that conception of reality in school reform, what limits does it impose and on whom? For whom does that reality serve? Take, for example, one extreme: high-stakes standardized testing. Whose reform is that? From implementation of testing, what does that say about what it is to be an educated person? Who do those tests serve? I have to tell you, certainly not the students nor the teachers. You think kids hated school before, I bet they freaking love it now, am I right? Say you’re a high school kid in a particular school, don’t really like school very much, so you do not meet proficiencies on math and reading. The solution: your electives are gone and you spend half your day in remedial math and the other half in remedial reading. School sure is an awesome place to be, that is an actual solution, no lie, I’ve seen it.

    And the teachers, well, we all know what they think of testing. So again, whose reality here and how does that impact what it means to be an educated person? I’m inclined to believe only certain people get to say what’s what and they do not necessarily, well, know their whatever from a hole in the ground.

  12. As Mr. Thompson probably knows, there are plenty of good schools with good teachers in them that drive student performance through the roof. Those schools, and the great teachers who are islands of excellence in bad schools, disprove the “teachers don’t matter” crowd’s unfounded accusations of “creaming.” How convenient it is to have an undocumented go-to argument against any evidence that teachers can make a difference. How dreary it must be, however, living in such a cynical world of intractable problems.

  13. Lisa and Socrates are trending the right direction here: looking to avoid the partisan diatribes and getting to root causes. Family income is an adequate (not accurate) predictor of performance, but the income itself does not seem to be the determinate variable in practice. Schools and students in high income areas have a dynamic and active network of family support backed by money, yes, but also in connections to opportunities beyond the classroom that reward achievement. Teachers in such communities are often paid less than (and treated like) domestic staff. In lower income areas, families can engage and offer all the support they can muster, but it is often the teachers who have the potential connections to those same opportunities beyond the classroom. As a result, they often become role-models and leaders in those communities. Teacher quality here is both a reflection of professionalism in the classroom, but also of their professional engagement and connections (and previous life experiences such as travel) outside of the classroom. If we really want our children (and our communities) to GROW rather than simply “achieve,” as Lisa points out, we need to encourage BOTH notions of professionalism.

  14. Perhaps I was one of the individuals guilty of a “partisan diatribe.” Really, was it that partisan? In all honesty, I don’t think it was. I do not necessarily believe fundamental change in a system encumbered by so-called “reality” should be a partisan issue. Nevertheless, I find Tim’s comment about two gradations of teacher professionalism insightful to a degree, but a couple of things give me pause. First, teachers in higher income communities might be paid less relative to the median income, for instance, or if you look at private schools. However, with the strict pay schedules in many states, I do not think salary is going to vary any appreciable amount from low to high income communities, at least in public schools. The second issue goes towards preparation. I think both kinds of professionalism are part of the same issue, that the teaching profession, or semi-profession, does not attract intellectually curious, dynamic, flexible, and creative people, overall, which is a function of its status or prestige, its lack of remuneration relative to other careers with similar qualifications, and the ruinous climate of bureaucratic control. All three of these issues go back a century or more. But again, traditional teacher preparation programs, at least in my case, do their best to encourage what Tim calls “both notions” of teacher professionalism. Yet, who would have thought that my previous travel experiences, that spring break I took in Cabo, would have anything to do with my professionalism. Huh, I’ll have to write that one down.

  15. If you have the personality be effective, it is hard to beat the joy of sharing the successes of inner city students. This EEP cult of the heroic teacher is offensive for a lot of reasons, primarily because it discounts the extraordinary efforts of the child who transcends poverty.

    Teach in the inner city long enough, however, and you have to learn how to pour your all into students, believe that a kid is about to pull himself or herself out off the hood, and then attend his funeral. Then you have to repeat that process enough until you develop an ability to hold contradictory thoughts in your head, and contradictory feelings in your heart, and make reality-based decisions.

    Then keep up teaching long enough, follow the lives of your former students and recognize how the hardship does’t end when your student gets a HS diploma. Work with enough of your former students as they still undergo the emotional struggle of pulling out of generational poverty and you realize that “the heart” is overwhelmingly more important than “the head.”

    Even those Hollywood heroes who are not able to do it alone. Someone had to pay their salary, and allow the teacher to actually teach as opposed to engage in endless test prep. And I’m not convinced that its their instructional approach that gets results. I suspect that the reason why hard work by teachers is effective, when it is effective, is because the act of doing all that work is the act of telling the student “I love you,” and that’s the prime operating factor.

    Of course, better teachers, better instruction, and better schools can do a better job of pulling kids out of pooverty. But SYSTEMICALLY, and no one institution and no one approach to teaching can get er done. We will always have some surgeons who are more effective. But hopefully, they will not condemn all other doctors to lose patients. Sure, frequent assessments and a focus on curriculum can be a good idea. But the favored approach of the EEP would be like a doctor, regardless of whether he or she was treating cancer or cardiac problems or whatever, who just order tests and then prescribe Laetril. Proscribing “High Expectations” and accountability is like listening to a faith healer, chanting “I Believe,” and not putting your hand on the radio.

    As far as diatribes, how about Al Sharpton calling teachers and our unions the Jim Crow of the 21st century?

    The EEP latest report shows the fundamental unfairness of their tactics. What if our industrial base had not disappeared during the last three decades, which is just a blink of an eye in the lives of families from generational poverty seeking to adjust to the 21st century. What if our students’ undeducated parents where not earning six or seven dollars an hour for post-industrial jobs, but $60 to $70 dollars an hour. So, should we condemn Sharpton and Klein for failing to stop globalism, and Voo Doo economics, and Bush’s republiation of the old “paradigm,” once know as “reality?”

    Tim, there are two sides to the recent graduation statistics. My city ranks seventh worst in the gap between suburban and urban graduation. But plenty of poor families in my schools neighborhood have left for magnets, charters, private schools, or one of the 15 suburban school districts in the county. But the suburbs still have a graduation rate in excess of 80%. Our urban district has a grad rate of 47%. But it is a tribute to the kids and the families who have exercised their choices and have succeed in schools like a magnet that is ranked in the top fifty schools nation-wide, or a state run school that is always ranked in the top five nationally. My school has a critical mass of the kids who couldn’t take advantage of choices. It is headed toward a graduation rate which may fall into the single digits when the Exit Exam law takes effect. I blame the quick fixes of NCLB-type accountability for making things worse, but not for creating the original problem. But plenty of our teachers could move into great schools here or in Montgomery County and not miss a beat.
    (were I to go back to Rutgers, i admit, I’d miss the adrenalin rush of teaching while battling the legacies of urban pathologies, but I wouldn’t miss the nonstop disrespect poured on teachers.)

    Inner city NEIGHBORHOOD secondary schools face a complex triangle, generational poverty, traumatized kids, and a long history of educational dysfunction.

    If you want to address educational dysfunction you have to address the facts as they are, not as the theorists would wish them to be.

    By the way, I still haven’t seen Duncan’s words. Maybe, he didn’t mean them the way they were characterized. I’m just arguing against the knee jerk Expectations school of reform. And Jeff, after you revised your words, I don’t have much quarrel with them.

  16. I read and re-read the McKinsey report for my upcoming blog post before concluding that its some sort of post modern thingamajig with methodology that makes me uncomfortable.

    The real reason I’m commenting again, however, is testing how to do hyperlinks. so, now I’ll see if it worked …

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