Michelle Rhee is a liar …

… and not a very clever one.

The scandal about cheating on standardized tests in the DC schools couldn’t help but put a dent in Rhee’s reputation. Still, it was, barely, possible that Rhee was culpably negligent – but no worse – in the cheating and the cover-up via a grossly inadequate “investigation.”

However, her slime-and-defend reaction to the exposure of the cheating eliminates that possibility. She was, and is, complicit in the cover-up, if not the cheating itself. There is simply no honest explanation for the very high ratio of wrong-to-right changes to right-to-wrong changes. When a student changes an answer on a test, it means that student wasn’t very sure of the answer in the first place. Except for cases where the student got the bubbles misaligned with the questions, changes from right answers to wrong ones are almost as common as changes from wrong answers to right ones. The combination of very high change rates with very high ratios is a smoking gun. And there’s no way someone as sophisticated as Rhee could not have known this.

So when she blames uncomfortable facts on unnamed “enemies of school reform,” she’s bullsh*tting. One of her proposed innocent explanations for the large number of changes was that some schools chose to give students as much time as they needed to complete the tests. That may or may not be a good testing approach, but, if newly introduced, it makes complete hash of year-to-year comparisons. Again, that’s elementary; Rhee must know it, and her attempt to evade it convicts her of dishonesty.

I tend to be pro-measurement, though very leery about fill-in-the-bubble testing. But given how rotten the DC schools are and how resistant the union has been to making any changes, if I’d been voting in DC last fall I would have voted for Fenty: that is, voted to keep Rhee in office.

Nevertheless, based on this interview alone, I’m now prepared to say “charlatan.” This should be a complete disqualification for her ever having any active role in educational reform. The notion of giving her a billion charitable dollars to play with ought to be absolutely beyond the pale.

Unfortunately, with the only actual newspaper in the nation’s capital owned by a test-preparation company, this probably won’t damage Rhee’s career at all. Too bad. It’s people like her who give what still seems to me a good cause – fixing the public schools in poor neighborhoods, even at some cost to the people who work in those schools – a bad name. I’d been wondering why Diane Ravitch had changed sides in the “ed wars.” Maybe this is why.

Comments

  1. dave schutz says

    “Young Arthur first attended public schools in Cambridge, but his parents lost faith in public education in his sophomore year after a civics teacher informed Arthur’s class that inhabitants of Albania were called Albinos and had white hair and pink eyes.”

    from the New York Times obituary for Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

  2. says

    Mark, I’m curious as to what you think the union has actually done in DC to resist “reform” that any other union hasn’t done in any other district. I’m asking this under the assumption that, as is commonly said of union resistance to reform, you probably feel they have fought against the standard reform platform: performance pay, ending tenure, and general undermining of teacher protections. The underlying premise of these reforms is that poor teaching is driving the achievement gap, and that what is needed is an improvement in the quality of teaching, and thus the so-called accountability measures.

    My problem with this is that it isn’t as if the teachers in DC are really much worse than anywhere else. I mean, they could be in some marginal sense, but it would be really odd for there to be so many bad teachers, to the extent that they are driving such dismal performance in classroom after classroom. There just isn’t anything about DC that would make it so exceptionally worse than other, similarly disadvantaged districts.

    Except of course, that all districts with similar demographics are doing terribly. We tend to say these are “bad schools”. Yet that’s largely a useless term. “School” is simply a building staffed by credentialed employees. The quality doesn’t change substantially from one to the next. What does change is the student body. Often in a matter of a few miles – across “the tracks” – scores can almost double. The reality is that these schools face tasks that are really not comparable. Therefore it is somewhat absurd to speak of them in similar terms, and even more absurd to address them with similar policy.

    Ever wonder why you don’t hear about “bad” teachers at “good” schools? It isn’t because they don’t exist. It is because they are largely irrelevant. As long as they show up and provide some basic level of instruction, the kids will do relatively OK. This isn’t even “bad” teaching, necessarily. (Just try managing to keep 30 kids somewhat focused and following a curriculum for 6 hours a day, and try not to go insane yourself – the term “bad” will take on new meaning!) No, what goes on at “good” schools is *average* teaching. And that’s fine. We can go into deeper discussions there, but I think that’s beyond the scope of the achievement-gap problem.

    But what goes on at “bad” schools is… surprise, *average teaching*. The problem is, given the resources everyone at such schools are working with, considering the task they face, *average* produces “bad” results. The vainglorious hope that modern education reform is after is a concept that should be offensive to reasonable people: poor schools need *above average* teachers. Now, there are 3 million teachers in America. In school districts with millions of kids, hundreds of thousands of them poor and disadvantaged, are we really going to hang our hopes on finding “above average” teachers?

    This is the John Rambo, Jaime Escalante model of education. It looks really cool, and is inspiring to believe. But ultimately it is disrespectful to the countless teachers out there doing an increasingly thankless job, asked to single-handedly fix modern society’s social problems by the sweat on their own brow. And when they fail – when they are merely “average” – they are labelled “bad”, and suddenly now *the reason* for America’s continuing social ills.

    Just imagine if we treated combat soldiers or cops this way? Not Rambo? Not Clint Eastwood? Well, don’t complain that we didn’t give you the resources to properly accomplish your mission. You weren’t above-average! Haven’t you seen the movies? Why couldn’t you have been just like them? Well, now we’ve lost the war. Now the neighborhood has become crime-ridden. And it is your fault.

  3. says

    (Eli): “There just isn’t anything about DC that would make it so exceptionally worse than other, similarly disadvantaged districts.
    Yes, there is. District size is strongly negatively correlated with NAEP 4th and 8th grade Reading and Math performance and strongly positively correlated with per-pupil expenditure. Since good teachers want to do a good job, self-selection would result in high ratios of bad teachers in notoriously bad districts.
    The most effective accountability mechanism that humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to unhappy customers the power to take their business elsewhere.

    Mark, thanks for the comment on the connection between the Post and test publishers. That’s useful information.

  4. Andrew says

    “Except of course, that all districts with similar demographics are doing terribly. ”

    Is this really true though? I don’t remember where I read this, but I think DC schools do worse even compared to schools in other poor, majority-minority, urban school districts, such as in Boston or New York.

  5. calling all toasters says

    Let me heartily endorse Eli’s comments, from the other end of the school spectrum. I went to a high school that generally ranks as one of the top schools in the New York City area, especially in standardized testing scores. And yet I had plenty of lousy teachers, and all the students knew who they were. Did they stop us from getting an education? Not hardly. My classmates were predominantly from upper middle class, professional (and Jewish) families. My friends read the Feynman lectures because they thought it was fun. Yes, by the time we could be selected out for advanced placement classes (11th grade) we got some superb teachers, but hardly at all earlier.

    And let me doubly endorse Eli’s analogy to the military.

  6. calling all toasters says

    Oh, and thank you, Mark, for calling Rhee out as a liar. I think your read is exactly right… at least until slime-and-defend stops working. Then liars will have to find another go-to stratagem. But I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

  7. Anomalous says

    As to that analogy to the military, wasn’t that exactly how the troops that went to Vietnam were treated? They were ‘stoners and malcontents who let the nation down’. The reality was that they were packed off to fight a geurrilla war against people who had been fighting just that way for a thousand years. In short an unwinnable war, without nuking the whole place.
    Now here we are with the same meme coming from the same political quarter, dumping blame onto public servants trying to do the impossible.
    If the right gets their way we will end up twenty years down the road with no better outcomes and spending way more money to get that. The real goal is dismantling public education and shifting that money to a corporate run system. Think Wallmart or Haliburton. Quality has nothing to do with it.

  8. Barbara says

    At the margins, I am sure there are terrible teachers who are being protected by the union and who couldn’t get a job elsewhere. But this is unlikely to be more than a minor contributing factor to the wholesale decline in D.C. schools that has occurred over a generation. Let me stat this: many of the teachers that inhabit the “wonderful” northern Virginia schools started by teaching in the District. D.C. doesn’t need to fire a bunch of awful teachers so much as it needs to hang on to good ones in the making — junior teachers who find it easier to get placed there because so many teachers go elsewhere as a result of difficult conditions. If I had to point to one factor above all it is probably safety and parental involvement. I think testing within reason is okay, but the high stakes beat them over the head with testing approach is as unsuitable for teachers and schools as it is for evaluating hospitals and doctors — if we think of teachers and schools as assets and resources to be supported and improved over time we would use testing for that purpose. Starting with a “punishment is the best incentive” narrative is not only likely to corrupt, it’s also likely to make teachers even less inclined to teach in difficult conditions. Michelle Rhee is a fraud, and calling her sophisticated credits her in a way that I am no longer inclined to do.

  9. James Wimberley says

    Dave Schutz: “… a civics teacher informed Arthur [Schlesinger’s] class that inhabitants of Albania were called Albinos …”
    Little Arthur wouldn’t of course ever tell a lie.

  10. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    @Malcolm:
    I’ll agree with your “The most effective accountability mechanism that humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to unhappy customers the power to take their business elsewhere.” if you’ll agree with my “The profit motive doesn’t work when it comes to providing difficult-to-monitor goods and services.”
    No deal? I didn’t think so. Would you at least concede that homeowner customers of mortgage servicers don’t have the power to take their business elsewhere? Or would you cavil at the word “customer”?

  11. calling all toasters says

    Not to pile on this point, but I find that I am a “great” college teacher when I have a class with at least a few students who are already enthusiastic about the subject and leave the class into broad-based participation, while I am “boring” when I don’t.

  12. says

    The real goal is dismantling public education and shifting that money to a corporate run system. Think Wallmart or Haliburton. Quality has nothing to do with it.

    Bingo!! And people that don’t understand it need to get their head out of the sand and see the big picture.

  13. RSR says

    >>Which paper is owned by a test prep company? The post?

    yes, Kaplan owns the Washington Post.

  14. Barbara says

    Yes, the Kaplan Post — almost all of the company’s profits are attributable to its test prep and for profit education operations.

    And Anomalous is right on — one reason why NCLB’s “standards” were set to be so inflexible is because Bill Bennett wanted schools to fail — he is on the record stating that his goal is to abolish the public school systems and make all schools private. There is nothing subtle about this and it frosts me no end that Obama and Arne Duncan are making themselves such useful idiots for this crowd. Obama has come to schools in my kids’ district on repeated occasions — I think it has been four times, whenever he wants to shoow off what’s possible, and Duncan (whose own kids go to school here) is around constantly and yet they seem to have failed to translate their love of this district, which has no vouchers and no charters, and ask what it does right. And it does a lot right — some of which is easily duplicated, but some of which is not. And the high school that Obama spoke at in 2009 that raised all the ruckus? — its principal (now retired) worked as a teacher and principal in D.C. schools for the better part of two decades before going there, and working a few more decades. Failing teachers my ass.

  15. SamChevre says

    Would you at least concede that homeowner customers of mortgage servicers don’t have the power to take their business elsewhere? Or would you cavil at the word “customer”?

    I’d cavil at the word “customer” here, as I would in current public education, and I think the two situations have common features. In both cases, the customer–the one paying for the service (mortgage-holders in one case, local governments in the other)–has interests that are not necessarily entirely the same as those of the person dependent on the service (students and homeowners). Making the person receiving services the person deciding who gets paid for those services in both cases would be make the person receiving services better off, but would probably make other people with legitimate interests worse off.

  16. says

    Kaplan owns the Washington Post.

    Actually, both Kaplan and the Post are owned by the same holding company. But the holding company’s profits all come from Kaplan. So there’s strong motivation from the Post’s owners for the Post to avoid undermining Kaplan.

  17. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    @Sam:
    I understand how allowing the mortgagee to choose a servicer might make a person with legitimate interests (i.e., the bondholders) worse off. (Although this is only true if the chosen servicer handles both collection and workout.) But I don’t understand how allowing students’ parents to choose schools would make any third party with legitimate interests worse off. I could see how it might hurt the students, but I can’t think of any third parties with legitimate interests in a student’s parents’ choice. Could you please explain in more detail?

  18. Mitch says

    I think Eli really hit the nail on it’s head, it’s silly to blame the people teaching our children. These people are among the most noble members of our society, they also among the most unfairly maligned and vilified members of our society. It isn’t as if “bad” teachers even start off as bad teachers (to believe otherwise, would be to (cynically) assume that the disinterested go into teaching for the pay/glory/summers off), teachers become disheartened after realizing the insurmountable obstacles they face every single day. As long as we fund our schools through property taxes, we’ll continue to have dismal schools. The “rich” districts will continue to have “good” schools and the “poor” districts will have “bad” schools. We can shift the blame on individual teachers or even the unions, nothing will change until we have politicians that will take education funding seriously.

  19. says

    (Mitch): “As long as we fund our schools through property taxes, we’ll continue to have dismal schools. The ‘rich’ districts will continue to have ‘good’ schools and the ‘poor’ districts will have ‘bad’ schools. We can shift the blame on individual teachers or even the unions, nothing will change until we have politicians that will take education funding seriously.
    Abundant evidence contradicts this. As the economist Eric Hanushek observed, beyond a rather low level, money does not matter much. Neither does the source of funds matter (parents excepted). Hawaii funds the State-wide school district from the State’s general fund, and Hawaii schools occupy the national cellar, as measured by NAEP. Across the US, government-operated schools derive less than 1/2 of their budgets from local sources (property taxes). Those notoriously poor inner-city minority districts get more money per pupil than suburban and rural districts. Kozol’s thesis (__Savage Inequalities__) is a lie. Bureaucrats steal taxpayers’ money and poor kids’ life chances.

    It does not take 12 years at $12,000 per pupil-year to teach a normal child to read and compute. Most vocaional training occure more effectively on the job than in a classroom. State (government, generally) provision of History, Economics, and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy.

  20. says

    (Scrooge): “I’ll agree with your ‘The most effective accountability mechanism that humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to unhappy customers the power to take their business elsewhere’ if you’ll agree with my ‘The profit motive doesn’t work when it comes to providing difficult-to-monitor goods and services’.”
    “Works” is a matter of degree. I recommend Joel Fried, “Pot and Kettles: Governance Practices of the Ontario Securities Commission”, section 2, “The Government’s Principal-Agent problem”. James Wimberley’s reference, Goodhart’s Law, in an earlier comment thread, about measures losing informative value, applies to any measure to which a large significance is attached (including money itself). I agree that profit statements are incomplete measures, but that’s not really important for a couple of reasons: 1) customers do’t care about profit. They’ll buy from a bankruptcy liquidator if they see value for their money, (2) where profit does matter (to the long-term viability of a company), what’s the alternative? A State agency of chartered tax-exempt group (church, etc.). Why suppose that these organizations will do better?

  21. SamChevre says

    But I don’t understand how allowing students’ parents to choose schools would make any third party with legitimate interests worse off. I could see how it might hurt the students, but I can’t think of any third parties with legitimate interests in a student’s parents’ choice. Could you please explain in more detail?

    It seems to be widely accepted (not universally, but very widely) that the community has at least some legitimate interests in what/how children are educated.[1] It’s not-uncommonly held that the parents of other students also have a legitimate interest in some aspects of a student’s/parent’s choices.[2]

    [1]It isn’t an acceptable choice to intentionally not teach children to read, for an extreme example. Think of truancy laws, minimum acceptable curriculum laws, and so forth.

    [2] Less universal, but it’s widely held that parents do not and should not have the right to send children to a school that excludes other potential students on “wrong” grounds, such as race.

  22. says

    (Scrooge): “I don’t understand how allowing students’ parents to choose schools would make any third party with legitimate interests worse off.
    (Sam): “…the community has at least some legitimate interests in what/how children are educated…It isn’t an acceptable choice to intentionally not teach children to read, for an extreme example.
    Inevitably, for each child, somebody or some body decides how that child will spnd the time between birth and age 18. Policies which give to individual parents the power to determine the course of instruction and the pace and method of instruction put control over education in the hands of those people who know children best and are most reliably concerned for their welfare. Yes, some parents will neglect or abuse their children. So will some teachers, so the real issue for policy makers is which system works better. Theory and evidence favor parents.
    (Sam): “Think of truancy laws, minimum acceptable curriculum laws, and so forth.
    These express the conclusion that compulsory institutions outperform parents. They do not support that conclusion. By analogy: I buy a ticket to a movie because I expect a decent movie. Buying the ticket does not make it a good movie. With the State’s entry into the education industry, politicians bought a ticket to a wretched movie.
    (Sam): “parents of other students also have a legitimate interest in some aspects of a student’s/parent’s choices…parents do not and should not have the right to send children to a school that excludes other potential students on ‘wrong’ grounds, such as race.
    The way to teach tolerance of diversity is to tolerate diversity, seems to me. In too hundred years, barring technological collapse, the whole world will be light brown, anyway.

  23. npm says

    Rhee apologized for the comments. From a WashPost column by Jay Mathews (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/rhee-calls-her-remarks-on-test-erasures-stupid/2011/03/30/AF1Jji3B_story.html):

    “Wednesday morning, I got another surprise in the form of a phone call from Rhee. She told me that what she said Monday — her word, repeated often in our conversation — was “stupid.”

    She said that she thinks cheating might have occurred in the District and that she is glad her successor, Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson, ordered a new investigation. Rhee said she still believes that the vast majority of teachers and administrators would never falsify test results, but that there can be exceptions. She said we should improve test security procedures so such abuses could not recur. She said the D.C. schools should ensure that D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System tests, after being completed, are not left in principals’ offices where tampering is possible.

    “You have got to have really strong test security protocols at the district level and at the state level,” she said. “The vast majority of people will not cheat, but there will be exceptions here and there.” “

  24. varmintito says

    Three points.

    1. The notion that the public schools would be great if only the union didn’t make it so hard to fire teachers is unadulterated bullshit. Eli did a great job attacking this argument and I won’t reheat what he said, but I want to add another facet: For the unions to be the culprit, the number of incompetent but unfireable teachers in “bad” schools would need to be significantly higher than the number in “good” schools. If teacher quality is the true cause of sustained, school-wide underperformance relative to other schools, teacher incomptence would necessarily be pervasive in those schools.

    So lets assume that all workplace protections disappear (not a panacea — this would make teaching less attractive, thus shrinking the entire pool of experienced or aspiring teachers befiore we’ve even begun). Let’s also assume that it is easy to tell which teachers are the problem and which are not (hard to do in real life, because high scores on certification exams do not correleate very well with actual teaching ability). We then fire all the bad teachers (how giving teachers the finger on such a collosal scale will make the profession more desirable remains unclear).

    We now have schools collectively trying to find millions of measurably better teachers than the ones fired.

    In particular, the worst performing school districts, heavily weighted to huge, poor, urban schools and small, poor, rural schools, will have to find the most new terachers.

    Where do we think DC will find thousands of teachers MEASURABLY BETTER than the ones they had? Do we expect a spontaneous influx of gifted teachers to Appalachia or the Mississippi delta? In fact, these are precisely the districts where some schools face a massive, continual challenge finding enough teachers, period. Year after year, these schools rely on stopgaps like provisional certification and long-term substitutes.

    Simply put, there is not a massive cohort of measurably better teachers straining at the leash to teach in the schools with the fewest resources, the lowest pay, the least safety, the least parental involvement, and the most destructive non-school factors (e.g., lead paint ingestion, malnutrition, homelessness, PTSD from neighborhood violence, shuttered public libraries, etc.).

    2. more often than not, teachers would rather make more money than less, would rather teach where the classrooms and hallways are safe and reasonably orderly, would rather teach in a school where the plumbing, roof, air conditioning and heating all work, and would rather teach where the tools to do so (from photocopiers to computers to textbooks) are plentiful, non-obsolete, and in good working order. In practice, this means that “good” school districts will be able to hire the most promising novice teachers and will be able to cherry pick the best teachers from struggling schools.

    To create a situation where a typical teacher would be as willing to teach in one school as another, the whole bundle of considerations would have to balance out. If there are certain factors that the school cannot directly control that greatly favor one school (such as the prevalence of two-parent families with jobs that allow them the flexibility to attend teacher conferences and volunteer at the school, the presence of the school in a safe and pleasant neighborhood, etc.), then the disfavored school will have to spend substantially MORE than the other school to balance the ledger (i.e., offer higher salaries, better technology, larger libraries, more aesthetically pleasing school buildings, more disciplinary support).

    The most gung-ho union busters (Walker, and his idiot counterparts in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana) claim that the overriding purpose for doing so is to balance the budget. For hundreds of thousands of BETTER teachers to materialize, and then seek jobs in the most challenging schools, would require a huge increase in school spending.

    3. Leaving aside the differences between grocery shoppers and kindergartners, I am actually very sympathetic to the argument @3 that “The most effective accountability mechanism that humans have yet devised is a policy which gives to unhappy customers the power to take their business elsewhere.”

    The kind of school choice that exists in real life, however, ranges from benign but academically irrelevant, to cruel hoax.

    Behind door #1 is a voucher system. Milwaukee has had a voucher system for a long time, and it has been studied intensively. The conclusion, from multiple studies by multiple observers over many years, is that the private schools where families use their vouchers do no better (and sometimes a bit worse) than the public schools.

    Behind door #2 are charter schools. I am in favor of charter schools because they can differentiate their focus and class offerings, especially in high school, which potentially makes school more engaging for students who want to pursue a particular curriculum

    On the basic issue of test scores within the same system, however, charter schools in the aggregate do as well as public schools in the aggregate.

    Behind door #3 is the intra-district transfer. This is the school choice centerpiece of NCLB, and it is dishonest to the core. It allows the students at the worst schools (those that fail to make “adequate yearly progress” over several years) to transfer to another school within the same district, provided that the destination school has an unfilled space.

    Here in the real world, the best and worst schools are not evenly distributed. If a system has lots of resources and a community with the usual advantages, it will likely have few if any schools that are not making adequate yearly progress.

    If a system has few resources and the community lacks the usual advantages, it will have many school that are not making adequate yearly progress. Additionally, it will have many more schools thay may technically be making AYP, but still are not enough better that a family will send its kid across town to go there. Even a struggling school system, however, usually has a handful of schools that are very well regarded. Because enrollment is guaranteed if a family lives in the catchment area, families with the resources to do so buy houses in the catchment area (the mere fact of being in a good elementary school’s catchment area can add $50,000 to the price of otherwise identical houses literally across the street from one another). Families from outside the catchment area who have connections or are persistent will also seek to enroll their kids there. In short, there will be few if any vacancies in these schools.

    The result, essentially, is that you have vast numbers of kids in just plain terrible schools (to trigger NCLB’s transfer provision, a school has to be failing in many ways over a long period). Technically, they can choose to go to a terrific school in the same school district. In reality, spots in the terrific school are hunted to extinction and the family’s real choices are to stay in the terrible school where they are, or transfer to a less terrible but still bad school.

  25. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    @Sam:
    I now understand your point. Thanks. I’ll let you and Malcolm duke out any further disagreements between you two.

    @Malcolm:
    Your answer is responsive to the words I used, but wasn’t responsive to what I meant. (My bad!) I was trying to say that there are some fields in which the profit motive doesn’t work very well. Take adjudication, as a polar example. Should adjudicators give their award to the person who pays them the most? That’s why we use state-run courts, and is why courts are willing to overturn arbitral awards if they think that the arbitrator is profit-sensitive with regard to individual cases. To pick a less polar case, think of medical services. Would you rather have a guild system with internal norms, or just let the quacks duke it out on the market? Guilds are monopolists, seeking an easy life. But once you assume that consumers of health care don’t have perfect information, guild norms start to have their charms. (They even allow some consumer choice.) To pick the opposite pole: Apple versus Wintel? By all means, let the users decide!
    I think we both probably believe that education is somewhat like medical services. (You’re free to correct me, if I’m wrong.) I look at the mediocre record of for-profit hospital and the horrible record of for-profit universities, and think that guilds, despite their flaws, look pretty good as compared with the profit motive. Is your hospital of choice a for-profit? Mine certainly isn’t!

  26. varmintito says

    On the off chance that anybody read all the way to the end of my post above:

    Behind door #4 is inter-district transfers. If a child is attending a terrible school in a school district with no available spaces in a good school, why not let him or her transfer to a nearby school district with ample spaces and good public schools (for example, DC/Bethesda, Philadelphia/Lower Merion)? Because the Supreme Court says it is unconstitutional to require a school district to enroll students from outside its attendance area, and the voters in wealthy suburban school districts have yet to elect a school board and municipal government that voted to offer free enrollment to families from adjacent cities that wanted to improve their child’s life prospects.

  27. says

    (Scrooge): “Take adjudication, as a polar example. Should adjudicators give their award to the person who pays them the most?
    Adjudication services operate either in a market or in a political environment. Sure, people should shop for arbitration services. Arbitrators would presumably use their integrity as a selling point. If you imagine that somehow the goons with the guns are morally superior to the rest of us in making decisions about whom to trust with such decisions, please reconsider. This is scientific research and not legal services, but the point applies.
    (Scrooge): “I think we both probably believe that education is somewhat like medical services. (You’re free to correct me, if I’m wrong.)
    We agree.
    (Scrooge): “I look at the mediocre record of for-profit hospital and the horrible record of for-profit universities…
    Please read this and reassess. “Profit” is a bookkeeping term; total revenues-(total costs + investment). An organization which has no line in its balance sheet for profit must attribute all revenues to costs. So you get administrative bloat.
    (Scrooge): “…and think that guilds, despite their flaws, look pretty good as compared with the profit motive. Is your hospital of choice a for-profit? Mine certainly isn’t!
    Dunno. I haven’t paid for medical care in 18 years. I guess I’m indifferent.

  28. says

    (Varminito): “Behind door #1 is a voucher system. Milwaukee has had a voucher system for a long time, and it has been studied intensively. The conclusion, from multiple studies by multiple observers over many years, is that the private schools where families use their vouchers do no better (and sometimes a bit worse) than the public schools.
    I recommend the discussion of the evidence on Jay Greene’s blog. See also Matt Ladner’s comment to Joanne Jacob’s recent post on the Milwaukee voucher system“.

    The last random assignment comparison across time for voucher lottery winners compared to losers found small but cumulative gains for the voucher students which become statistically significant in year three.

    See also…
    Gerard Lassibile and Lucia Navarro Gomez
    “Organization and Efficiency of Educational Systems: some empirical findings”
    __Comparative Education__, Vol. 36 #1, 2000, Feb.

    …regression results indicate that countries where private education is more widespread perform significantly better than countries where it is more limited. The result showing the private sector to be more efficient is similar to those found in other contexts with individual data (cites deleted). This finding should convince countries to reconsider policies that reduce the role of the private sector in the field of education.

    See also…
    Joshua Angrist
    “Randomized Trials and Quasi-Experiments in Education Research”
    __NBER Reporter__, summer, 2003.

    One of the most controversial innovations highlighted by NCLB is school choice. In a recently published paper,(5) my collaborators and I studied what appears to be the largest school voucher program to date. This program provided over 125,000 pupils from poor neighborhoods in the country of Colombia with vouchers that covered approximately half the cost of private secondary school. Colombia is an especially interesting setting for testing the voucher concept because private secondary schooling in Colombia is a widely available and often inexpensive alternative to crowded public schools. (In Bogota, over half of secondary school students are in private schools.) Moreover, governments in many poor countries are increasingly likely to experiment with demand-side education finance programs, including vouchers.
    Although not a randomized trial, a key feature of our Colombia study is the exploitation of voucher lotteries as the basis for a quasi-experimental research design. Because demand for vouchers exceeded supply, the available vouchers were allocated by lottery in large cities. Our study compares voucher applicants who won a voucher in the lottery to those who lost. Since the lotteries used random assignment, losers provide a good control group for winners. A comparison of voucher winners and losers shows that three years after the lotteries were held, winners were 15 percentage points more likely to have attended private school and were about 10 percentage points more likely to have finished eighth grade, primarily because they were less likely to repeat grades. Lottery winners also scored 0.2 standard deviations higher on standardized tests. A follow-up study in progress shows that voucher winners also were more likely to apply to college. On balance, our study provides some of the strongest evidence to date for the possible benefits of demand-side financing of secondary schooling, at least in a developing country setting.

  29. says

    (Varminito): “…lets assume that all workplace protections disappear (not a panacea — this would make teaching less attractive, thus shrinking the entire pool of experienced or aspiring teachers befiore we’ve even begun).
    Well, maybe. Most people want to do a good job, and work rules that compel good teachers to tolerate bad teachers make schools less attractive to good teachers. Here’s a tip for prospective teachers: teaching is fun if the students want to be there.
    (Varminito): “…high scores on certification exams do not correleate very well with actual teaching ability
    (Varminito): “…Do we expect a spontaneous influx of gifted teachers to Appalachia or the Mississippi delta? In fact, these are precisely the districts where some schools face a massive, continual challenge finding enough teachers, period. Year after year, these schools rely on stopgaps like provisional certification and long-term substitutes.
    Make up your mind. Conventional teaching certification is a job guarantee to College of Education faculty, who gave us Whole Language methods of reading instruction, discovery methods of Math instruction, portfolio assessment, block scheduling, and numerous other lunatic fads. Conventional certification makes no contribution teacher performance“.

  30. Ebenezer Scrooge says

    @Malcolm,
    I’m sure you and I are the only people around this late in the thread.
    The only thing I wanted to raise was your contention that “Arbitrators would presumably use their integrity as a selling point.” There are two problems with this.
    First, integrity is not a selling point in arbitration services; only a reputation for integrity is. In a world of information asymmetry, a profit-maximizing arbitrator would probably want to present a reputation for integrity to the less informed party, and a reputation for bias toward the more informed party. (There’s some empirical evidence for this in consumer arbitration.) I’ve kept stressing the rule of informational asymmetry. Where there is little, for-profits certainly work best.
    Second, even a well-earned reputation is monetizable. (Detroit, for example, had a well-earned reputation for making good cars, and squandered it in the 1970s and 1980s, quite comfortably in the short term.) Corporations are not individuals, and some of the individuals and groups making decisions for the corporation might just want to monetize their corporation’s reputation. Their time discount value can be very different from that of the corporation.
    Guilds or governments work under very different incentive structures than for-profit entities. You are keenly aware of the weaknesses of not-for-profit incentive structures, in many contexts. I’m not arguing. I’m just trying to show you that some rational people might see that for-profits also have their weaknesses. Where the for-profits’ weaknesses are particularly salient, guilds and governments just might perform better for their customers.

  31. curious says

    actually i’m still reading and asking questions. Malcolm, please can you explain what happens in your privatized and home schooled world to the kids whose parents don’t educate them, don’t take advantage of voucher programs, and don’t have the time, resources or other ability to seek out any other alternatives for them? Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with setting up a system that doesn’t intervene to educate those kids? And if not, why is any argument about an achievement gap or failing schools a basis for getting rid of the system that we have now if the replacement also leaves an achievement gap?

  32. varmintito says

    malcolm:

    Concerning your first response to my post:

    I read the linked blog item you posted about the Milwaukee schools. That blog post discussed and linked to a news article about a study of the Milwaukee voucher system, published by by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. According to the news article, the results of the WDPI study were precisely in line with what I said — voucher kids did the same or slightly worse than similarly poor kids in Milwaukee public schools.

    The journal articles you quote both concern studies performed in other countries, in particular Colombia. I am not prepared to assume that the systems of public and private education in Colombia are meaningfully comparable to that in the U.S. Indeed, the excerpt you quoted specifcally delimited its conclusions to “a devloping country setting,” which is hardly an accurate description of the U.S. or its schools.

    Concerning your second response to my post:

    I agree with your non sequitur that most people want to do a good job. It is a non sequitur because wanting to do a good job is quite compatible with also wanting job security and some power over your work conditions.

    Your substantive point, that teaching is more rewarding when your colleagues are good teachers, has merit. Indeed, this is an important factor when teachers request a transfer to a different school. Most of the time, however, even the very best faculties will have some teachers who are uncreative, or wedded to outmoded pedagogical practices, or burnt out. Most of the time they provide commodity-grade instruction, and because the general environment in the school is so favorable and many other teachers provide excellent instruction, the kids turn out fine.

    Importantly, however, this is a less important factor in deciding whether to enter the profession. When somebody is training to be a teacher, they cannot know in advance where they will be offered a job, visit that school, and observe closely and long enough to assess the their potential future colleagues’ teaching abilities. They can, however, know in advance whether and under what conditions they can achieve tenure in a particular school system, and what the teaching and non-teaching load is.

    My sense, from having been a teacher, is that the things that work rules unions fight for (e.g., tenure, defined duties and class loads, etc.) make the profession attractive to potential teachers to a greater degree than the perceived side effects of these work rules (ineffective colleagues) make the profession unattractive. I am unaware of any attempt to sytematically study the presence of teachers’ unions as a positive or negative factor in deciding whether to become a teacher. Speaking personally, I was aware of both factors and voted with my feet (I applied only to public school systems, largely because higher pay and job security outweighed the undeniable attractions of teaching in a good private school).

    As for your point that teaching is more fun if the students want to be there: I agree. I also think that all but the most radicalized conservative students do not give a single hair on the ass of the world’s tiniest rat whether their teachers belong to a union. Ceteris paribus, some kids like school more than others. Ceteris paribus, kids in good schools like school more than kids in bad schools.

    I can tell you one thing that makes kids strongly not want to be in school: standardized testing and, more importantly, instructional time dedicated to preparing for standardized testing that is designed only to measure how well schools and school systems are performing, and has no direct effect on their future. Most skills and concepts can be made fun. Teaching to the test cannot be made fun.

    As for making up my mind concerning the relevance of teacher certification, I don’t see my position as inconsistent.

    I am speaking here from my own experience. I was a middle school social studies teacher. The secondary school social studies certification exam tested my knowledge of the subject matter. I knew the subject matter cold, and my score was in the 99th percentile. This was useful. It did not, however, test my knowledge of how to respond when 13 and 14 year olds were disruptive and insolent. It did not test my ability to be organized and keep the kids organized (one of the most useful pieces of advice I ever received as a teacher was “hole punch every piece of paper you want a student to keep”). It didn’t test my ability to make lessons interesting to 13 and 14 year olds of widely varying maturity, concentration spans, vocabularies, intelligence, and stages of cognitive development.

    Rereading my post, I think I used an ambiguous term. By “provisional certification,” I am referring to the practice of allowing a teacher to teach out of their field because no certified teacher in that field is available. This is most acute with high school science and math, and special education. I am not referring to paths to certification other than a bachelor’s degree with a major in education. In fact, I was part of the first wave of master’s certification programs, in which somebody with a BA or BS in another field takes an intensive program of coursework on pedagogy and does their student teaching, and receives their M.Ed. and teacher certification in slightly more than one calendar year (basically, one academic year plus the summer sessions before and after). Master’s Cert programs have become far more common since I did it, especially with career switchers. A distinct advantage of these programs is that they produce a cohort of teachers who are more mature and have a broader variety of life and work experience than the average 21 year old.

    I do not believe schools sacrifice anything by hiring somebody who went through a master’s cert program, even though we take fewer classes on pedagogy. I believe that sound pedagogy, to the extent it can be taught through direct instruction, does not require the amount of classwork undergrad teaching programs mandate. I suspect we agree on this point. I do not believe, however, that these classes amount to nothing more than the dissemination of lunatic fads. I learned valuable things that I used successfully in my own teaching.

    I DO believe schools sacrifice quite a bit when somebody who doesn’t know much about dyslexia, autism, or adaptive communication technologies is pressed into service as a special ed teacher via emergency certification, or a long term substitute who doesn’t know much about physics is pressed into service as an 11th grade physics teacher. These bad scenarios almost never happen in good school districts, but happen regularly in school systems that have difficulty attracting the best teachers, or teachers in hard-to-staff fields.

  33. says

    (varmintito): “I read the linked blog item you posted about the Milwaukee schools…According to the news article, the results of the WDPI study were precisely in line with what I said — voucher kids did the same or slightly worse than similarly poor kids in Milwaukee public schools.
    Yes. Did you read Matt Ladner’s comment, which was the point of my link?
    (varmintito): “The journal articles you quote both concern studies performed in other countries, in particular Colombia. I am not prepared to assume that the systems of public and private education in Colombia are meaningfully comparable to that in the U.S. Indeed, the excerpt you quoted specifcally delimited its conclusions to ‘a devloping country setting’, which is hardly an accurate description of the U.S. or its schools.
    What do you use for evidence? The discussion concerned relative performance of State-monopoly school systems versus school systems which operate within a legal regime which gives parents the power to determine which schools their children attend. Across industries, across countries, competitive markets in goods and services outperform State-monopoly enterprises. The education industry is no exception. Lassibile and Gomes summarizes an international study. Angrist summarizes a study in Columbia.
    (varmintito): “…wanting to do a good job is quite compatible with also wanting job security and some power over your work conditions.
    Where your performance depends on the performance of co-workers, however, doing a good job is incompatible with work rules which require your employer to keep incompentent co-workers on the job.
    (varmintito): “As for your point that teaching is more fun if the students want to be there: I agree. I also think that all but the most radicalized conservative students do not give a single hair on the ass of the world’s tiniest rat whether their teachers belong to a union. Ceteris paribus, some kids like school more than others. Ceteris paribus, kids in good schools like school more than kids in bad schools.
    The immediate topic was the contribution which unions make to the incentive to become a teacher. By protecting incompetent teachers, unions degrade the school environment. The result is a selection bias which results in bad teachers working for exaggerated salaries in wretched districts. Another effect of unions is the aggregation of school districts (long discussion there), which reduces the variety of school options. This increases the mismatch between students and curriculum (what if we all had to wear the same size shoes?), which increases student dissatisfaction, which increases teacher dissatisfaction.
    (varmintito): “I can tell you one thing that makes kids strongly not want to be in school: standardized testing and, more importantly, instructional time dedicated to preparing for standardized testing that is designed only to measure how well schools and school systems are performing, and has no direct effect on their future. Most skills and concepts can be made fun. Teaching to the test cannot be made fun.
    We may agree here, somewhat. I would prefer to see State-mandated standardized tests for every student every year for every school which receives tax support, and a policy which gives to the principal at each school the power to determine how to operate her school. If teaching to the test is counter-productive (probably), for most students, schools would quickly figure this out.

  34. says

    Curious): “…what happens in your privatized and home schooled world to the kids whose parents don’t educate them, don’t take advantage of voucher programs, and don’t have the time, resources or other ability to seek out any other alternatives for them?
    The path from here to there starts with the current system. There are too many “r”s in “revolution”. Children of indifferent parents have the most to gain from the improvements to the current system that competition between providers of education services would spur. While I believe that society as a whole would be better off if the State got out of the education industry completely (exceptig the requirements it imposes on its own employees, like, e.g., Marine boot camp), that’s not my recommendation. We invested a lot in the current system. I recommend a policy I call Parent Performance Contracting as a smooth path from the State-monopoly system to a market-oriented system.

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