Edujobs: Three Card Monte

Update: Statement of Administration Policy released late today contains  a veto threat on the rescission provisions.

Update II: The package passed the House with the rescissions intact.

Update III: Even the usually mild-mannered Hope Street Group is on the attack over this. Plus don’t miss Jonathan Alter’s piece on this, a lot of inside baseball that is no longer so inside.  Absolute must reading.

What a weird 24 hours.  First, no one wanted to say that cannibalizing Secretary Duncan/President Obama’s top ed reform priorities was their idea.   Now, people are lining up with Congressman Obey even though you can’t find an editorial board, moderate, or education analyst who thinks this is a good idea. Alyson Klein has great coverage of all the back and forth.

Key political issues:

  • The Weingarten v. The White House dynamic bears watching.
  • This is a test for reformers, some, for instance Charlie Barone, clearly get that.  Unclear if everyone understands what’s at stake here.  Hint, it’s more than the money for the programs…
  • Jared Polis is really stepping out on this issue to protect the charter school funding.  Keep an eye on that.

Substantively, now that the fight has shifted to offsets some of the underlying issues are getting lost.  Mr. Robin Chait has a strong piece at TNR about the proposed Obey cuts. It’s being blasted all over reform-land.  I think I’ve received it at least once for every word of text in it.  It’s great that he calls out the ridiculousness of some of this, but overall I don’t like it so much because (a) he brushes off the possibility of doing something on “last in, first out” or LIFO with these funds as impractical.  In practice, there are plenty of policy mechanisms you could attach to this funding that wouldn’t delay it but would commit states to some action now and/or  moving forward.  And (b) when he writes that “The right is using the pretext of education reform to oppose sensible fiscal policy, and the left is using the pretext of sensible fiscal policy to oppose education reform” that ignores all the left-leaning groups (eg Children’s Defense Fund and others (pdf)) that called for LIFO reform.  Like many education issues, this one isn’t left – right.

That sentiment also minimizes the underlying fiscal dynamic here.  Because of all the built in cost escalators for teacher pay if it takes $10, or $23 billion, or whatever, to stave off layoffs this year, it will cost even more next year absent either a dramatic change in state tax receipts or cost containment strategies.   I’ll leave it to you to figure out which of those is more likely or something Congress can actually influence.  Assuming that teacher ineffectiveness is not concentrated at one or the other end of the salary distribution (which after the first year the evidence says it is not) then not only allowing but encouraging schools to use effectiveness in layoff decisions is not only common sense, it actually helps address the underlying cost problems.  Why? Because it encourages schools to lay off less productive workers not just cheaper ones.   And it’s important to remember that while large districts with substantial annual hiring are getting the attention in many communities the “first out” teacher can still be a teacher with experience and a track record.

Other reading on this worth checking out includes Will Marshall at Progressive Fix and Eliza Krigman at National Journal.

7 Replies to “Edujobs: Three Card Monte”

  1. I love how in Alter’s calculus, old = bad and young = good. I wish I could live happily in such a simplistic universe.

  2. Alter could have wrote :

    Obey “has been a fiery and highly effective legislator. Any history of how the country avoided another depression must include Obey, who shepherded the $787 billion Recovery Act through Congress last year with great skill (and no earmarks). He has been an inspiring antiwar liberal dating back to Vietnam and a rare man of conscience in Washington.

    Obey is opposing President Obama’s signature program on education, Race to the Top, siding with unions who consider it a luxury or even a “slush fund.”

    Instead he called Obey a “water carrier for the teachers’ unions.”

    What was that characterization based one? Does Alter have ANY knowledge of the case against the RttT policies or for seniority. Has he considered evidence for or against the argument that seniority “has no place in education?”

    The RttT is a riverboat gamble, but those who say it has already had benefits are in danger of believing their own PR spin. And Alter shows the danger of believing in that spin. Sure, “reformers” believe that their ideas are good ideas. I believe otherwise based on my reading of the evidence. Does that make me a water carrier for the union or the water carrier for evidence-based decision-making?

    Maybe Alter is right, but has he even looked at our side’s argument.

    Obama is a busy man. How many minutes has Obama invested in evaluating the substance of his education policy. If he makes a decision on this issue, how many minutes or even seconds will he devote to the evidence of what is good for kids. I suspect he’ll spend a few very minutes, completely focused on the politics. It will boil down to opposing the union or not. That issue will be whether now is the time to demonize the union to look tough, or not. The welfare of kids won’t factor at all.

    The real question is who is briefing Obama, Alter, Duncan, et al? Now its mostly the same “reform” crowd who use the word “Accountability” to demonize their opponent. At some point, will Obama and Duncan choose to listen to evidence for helping kids rather than destroying enemies?

  3. From Alter:

    How disappointing. Rigid “last hired, first fired” rules are a disaster for schoolchildren. They mean that across the country, teachers of the year will be pink-slipped simply because they are young. Yep—some of our very best teachers will be driven out of the profession.

    Oh, really.
    Isn’t that what’s done in Montgomery County and Fairfax County?
    And those public school systems suck, don’t they?

  4. Edlharris, that is an unbelievably specious and disingenuous argument. The fact that it is possible to set up a successful school system with LIFO in place does not mean that it is a good idea. You know, the whole correlation and causation thing. Anyway, as someone who reads these comments probably more than I should, it would be nice if you (or someone who agreed with you) actually put forth a coherent argument for the benefits of a seniority-based system instead of constantly bad-mouthing reformers as greedy or self-interested or whatever. Personally, I lean more toward the “reform” camp, but I’m persuadable. I just wish you would actually try to persuade instead of engaging only at the level of sound bites and ad hominem attacks.

  5. Jesse,

    Thanks for being persuadable, but edlharris has an outstanding record of making closely argued policy statements supported by evidence.

    But here’s my #1 argument for reforming LIFO, but still protecting seniority. Tenure in universities protects free speech. Without tenure, public school teachers immediately lose the bulk of their power in arguing against policies that impose educational malpractice. I was just watching the video of Brad Jupp at the Ed Sector, and even he who I respect so highly, said that we must accept a world where reform leaders want to just staff schools with “their type of teachers” and train them in their way. Too many in the reform camp just want an educational monoculture. Not all, but many in the reform camp want to drive Baby Boomers out of the profession. Economics is only part of it. Mostly they don’t want the voices of experience distracting from their vision. But economics is a factor, too, and its intertwined with their vision thing. In schools we constantly hear complaints that veteran teachers don’t embrace Smartboards or whatever. Principals of turnaround schools often get rid of older teachers, not because of their lack of effectiveness, but because they aren’t unreservedly on board with the new paradigm. So, you can get rid of dissent and high salaries at the same time.

    Too many reformers see that as a win win for them. But often veteran teachers are cautious because they – unlike the young reformers – have seen the same reforms tried and failed over and over under different names.

    If I could persuade you on one point, it would be this. The single best way to improve schools would be to think ahead, plan, and stop making the same old errors. It is much better to avoid a mistake than to clean up afterwards.

    And point #2, teachers want to teach. The best way to recruit and retain teaching talent is to create learning cultures that respect teachers’ voices as well as the full hamanity of students. The best way to drive off talent is to perpetuate this standardized testing madness.

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