What I’m Reading Today

Congrats to Rose Kerr via GothamSchools.org

Roland’s latest experiment via JoanneJacobs.com

One of David Brooks’ readers, Frank Wheeler

“Higher education was not a norm, a world war was starting, a depression was fresh in everyone’s mind, the average life span for a male in that state was around fifty, people stayed put and guys went to work in the mines, chemical companies or the state road. But my parents, both from humble backgrounds, were different. They had a vision for education, although they had little.”

– Guestblogger Mike Goldstein

10 Replies to “What I’m Reading Today”

  1. Although I have no reason to disagree with Roland Fryer’s research, I wish he had extended his experiment to ask, “Would treating people like this have an adverse effect on their choosing to become teachers?” Put it another way, would Professor Fryer want to be given a bonus upfront and then told he could lose it if he didn’t improve? I doubt it.

    If we want good teachers, let’s use some common sense. Treat them a little bit more like a Harvard professor, and a little less than a teenaged babysitter, and maybe we’ll get more talented teachers who choose to stay in the profession.

  2. Will Fryer ever release the study on Michelle Rhee’s Capital Gains program to pay DCPS middle schoolers to get good grades?

    The only thing to come out of it was that Hardy Middle School, where the program was announced with great fanfare by Rhee and Mayor Fenty, lost its principal Patrick Pope. He was removed by Michelle Rhee in revenge for Hardy not participating in the program.

    Needless to say, that tawdry detail was left out of Richard Whitmire’s hagiography.

  3. Fryer: “These effects are comparable to reducing class size by about one-third (Krueger, 1999).”

    The final sentence of the Fryer report:
    “Our results, along with those of Hossain and List (2009) suggest that there may be significant potential for exploiting loss aversion in the pursuit of both optimal public policy and the pursuit of profits.”

    As Linda so acutely observes, a loss aversion policy taken by districts is probably not an effective recruitment strategy. I also wonder what the psychic toll on a human personality might be like if one spent thirty years working like a demon not to lose income to the whims of one’s students, local economic conditions, parental influence, and other assorted items the Education Counter-Reformation™ thinks are of no consequence.

    But I have to say that on the whole, the study, coming out of the School of Economics, is breathtaking in its use of sophisticated statistical doohickies and whatnots. Equally breathtaking is it’s complete lack of awareness of teaching and learning theory and practice. And yet, I have to commend the authors on their total adherence to an amoral pimping of their work to all takers.

  4. one spent thirty years working like a demon
    But the Professional Education Reform crowd don’t believe in teaching for 30 years. As Michelle Rhee stated when arguing against retirement systems, nowadays people switch careers every several years. (She wasn’t thinking of Wendy Kopp or Mike Levin when she said that.)

  5. I have great admiration for the skilled classroom educators who teach for 30 years. We’ve named our new Graduate School of Education after a teacher who did just that, and with the spirit of his serving as symbol for the many thousands of such teachers.

    I’d rather have one skilled teacher for 30 years than, say, 6 teachers for 5 years, even if all 6 were equally skilled, which seems unlikely, and even though it costs more.

    The converse of that is that those who teach poorly for 30 years do lot of damage.

    – Guestblogger Mike G.

  6. Professor Fryer, like other tenure-track professors, did receive a bonus upfront (his job) and was in danger of losing it if he did not earn tenure. And why assume that the system Fryer proposes for the public schools would necessarily have bad effects? It’s plausible that, properly done, it could improve the effectiveness of the teaching force.

    Whether or not performance incentives matter to teaching and how much they matter are socially important questions and are hotly debated. Fryer and colleagues studied these questions in a way that fixed problems with earlier studies. They presented their study and results openly. What is “amoral pimping” about that?

  7. I’ve got to join with phillipmarlow and ask when Fryer will release the results of Oklahoma City’s middle school cell phone minute incentive program, which was a redo of his failed NYC effort.

    Similarly, when will Fryer explain what happened with students who did not make it to test time in his “No Excuses” Houston experiment. He started with a student population of 80+% low income, but ended with test takers who were 61% low income. Sounds like a huge failure to me.

    In fact, as I read the info that Fryer deigns to release, the only things that worked were the old-fashioned “input” reforms. Improved college counseling and (Mike’ program), assembling a team of talented tutors were the only parts of the Houston experiment that worked.

  8. Teachers also have an upfront “bonus” in the sense that they are not granted permanent status, i.e. “tenure,” if they don’t do a good job. People forget that in good economic times over 50% of all new teachers left the profession during the first five years and that’s primarily the reason almost “everyone” was granted permanent employment. Now that jobs are scarce, many more teachers will likely not be awarded tenure. So in that sense they already have an upfront bonus, just as Fryer did.

  9. Hello Art, happy to expand on my comments. Let’s start with the theory behind the experiment:

    “The theory underlying teacher incentives programs is straightforward: if teachers lack motivation to put effort into important inputs to the education production function (e.g. lesson planning, parental engagement), financial incentives tied to student achievement may have a positive impact by motivating teachers to increase their effort.” IF, motivation were the critical factor, one may be tempted to accept the thesis. Fryer suggests studies on pay incentives are mixed and I would agree. Maybe humans in education don’t work the way classically trained Harvard and Chicago economists expect. But hey, maybe everyone understands punishment–let’s take away their money for slacking. Did Fryer define motivation or show how it affects how students learn? No.

    Fryer cites Corcoran, et. al., 2004, and Hoxby and Leigh, 2004, for support of that thesis plus this gem: “Some argue that these two facts, coupled with the inherent challenges in removing low performing teachers due to collective bargaining agreements.” However, the Corcoran and Hoxby works clash and the Hoxby study is contested by many as it is. Fryer even cites “Only one previous field study has tested loss aversion in the context of incentive pay, finding that bonuses framed as losses improve productivity of teams in a Chinese factory (Hossain and List 2009).” China? Really? I generally don’t put much stock into sentences in scientific studies that start with, “Some argue…” At least the works cited at the end of the paragraph should support the assertion.

    And, programs that aim to make teachers more effective have shown little impact on teacher quality (see e.g., Boyd et al 2007 for a review). That is not the same as no impact but mostly Boyd documented the lack of empirical evidence either way :”The authors conclude that the research evidence is simply too thin to have serious implications for policy.” Boyd looked at teacher prep programs; Fryer’s original sentence was unclear whether one is looking at established teachers becoming more effective or new teachers, turn out the latter. We should also keep in mind that teacher quality here is defined in terms of student test scores.

    So Art, when I run down all the threads of this work–how important pieces are missing and supporting evidence is misconstrued, I have to wonder as well why Fryer would end a piece of scholarship with a statement about how his research would aid the “pursuit of profits.” That’s pimping. Why does Fryer even bother with the experience of developing countries where their relationship with pay structures and even the value of money is likely qualitatively different than for a suburban, Midwestern teacher? Isn’t that something an economist would pay attention to? And the number of citations of (Fryer, forthcoming) was eight. How am I supposed to evaluate the relevance of citations of other presumably peer-reviewed work when the large number of forthcomings plays a crucial role in how I interpret the value of the reported research?

    I did some background on Fryer for this post. Seems, he was a MacArthur Fellow. He’s quite the up and coming young economist. So, I take back all my criticism of sloppy citations, undefined assumptions, and most of all, propping up the modern reformist movement.

    No. Not really. Fryer may have done some good work in some arena of economics but his work in education leaves a lot to be desired.

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