Mike the Mad Biologist

Whatever else one might say about Republican (for now) Florida Governor Charlie Crist, he was absolutely right to veto a bill that would link teacher pay to student performance (italics mine):

Mr. Crist said Thursday that his decision was not political. He cited “the incredible outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, students, superintendents, school boards and legislators.”

The bill was supported by the Florida Department of Education and statewide business groups, which expressed disappointment in the governor’s decision, saying that teachers should be held more accountable.

But the governor, announcing his veto in the Capitol in Tallahassee, said the changes envisioned would put “teachers in jeopardy of losing their jobs and teaching certificates, without a clear understanding of how gains will be measured.”

Linking teacher pay to student achievement has long been a goal of some education reformers. They are mostly conservatives, but their ranks also include people in the Obama administration.

Thanks to ‘progressives’ in the Obama Administration (and wealthy foundations that support this rubbish), this crap is going to keep coming back. And it is crap:

When Florida proposed strict accountability measures, teachers, parents and administrators pushed back. They argued that the proposed system — basing renewal of teacher contracts and at least half their raises on how well students did on standardized tests — would hold them responsible for factors in students’ lives beyond their control.

“I am not a puppet master; I can’t pull strings and make them perform,” said Amy Horr, a second-grade teacher in the Miami-Dade School District who attended a rally on Monday. “I can’t even make them come to school.”

That’s probably the pithiest rebuttal I’ve ever heard–and it summarizes the most critical factor in test performance: poverty, which, using state data, accounts for about half the variation in student performance. If you have lots of poor students, having competitive test scores with students that aren’t poor is an almost certain statistical impossibility. So all this policy would do is encourage any teacher with a mortgage or a sick relative to move to schools with fewer poor children.

What underlies all of this is the false belief that the primary problem underlying the educational ‘crisis’–although, for those states that have world-class systems, it’s not a crisis–is managerial. That mindset did wonders for U.S. industry. Imagine what it can do for our children’s development! That somehow, the right scheme of worker manipulation incentives will magically make up for the structural shortcomings of schools face (e.g., physicalinfrastructure, supplies and materials, class sizes), as well as the absence in states that perform poorly (or worse than expected given student poverty) of a rigorous, meaningful curriculum. The magic incentive scheme also won’t compensate for hiring unqualified teachers and inadequate continuing education for teachers.

In the supposed halcyon days of yore, wherein sixth graders were philosopher kings, we didn’t have ‘teacher accountability.’ We supported teachers: that means money and the hard political work of developing meaningful, content-focused standards.

Thankfully, Governor Crist gets this.

Comments

  1. #1 Azkyroth
    April 18, 2010

    When it comes to “teacher accountability” one would get more moral mileage (and possibly better improvements in student performance, actually) from a law making “complicity with bullying” a criminal offense for teachers and certain other authority-to-children figures.

  2. #2 Rich Orman
    April 18, 2010

    One of the big problems with standardized benchmark tests is that in most places the students face no sanctions for failing the test. In most places it does not count as part of the grade, and students do not need to pass the test in order to get the next grade or graduate. Thus, they don’t care about how well they do, and they certainly have no incentive to prepare. Also, if you were to tie teacher pay and licensing renewal to students’ performance on these tests, you would basically be creating an incentive for teachers to do nothing other than devote their entire classes to preparation for baseline tests. Good for the Gov.

  3. #3 Jackal
    April 18, 2010

    If they really wanted to improve learning for at-risk children, they’d pool the state’s education money and redistribute it according to student population size. All children deserve the same educational opportunities, regardless of how rich or poor their neighborhood is.

  4. #4 dean
    April 18, 2010

    I’m amazed someone like crist would do this, but glad he did.

    our local paper ran an editorial cartoon a few weeks ago – a teacher had just handed a young child a paper with an “F” on it: the student was saying (essentially) “Yeah, right now it’s me that’s failing and in trouble. What are you gonna do when the teacher accountability bill passes?”

  5. #5 Phillip IV
    April 18, 2010

    Just goes to show that the Teabagger movement is doing some good, after all – without deranged teabag Marco Rubio monopolizing the crazy vote, Christ would probably never felt at liberty to act reasonably for a change.

  6. #6 Robert C.
    April 18, 2010

    I think you are afraid to use the word “culture”, and refer to “poverty” instead. How “poverty” in itself prevents a student from boarding a school bus is beyond my comprehension. Other than that, I agree – vetoing this bill was fully justified. If teachers feel intimidated by being held responsible for factors beyond their control, no sane person would want to work at schools that are in a PARTICULAR need of good teachers.

  7. #7 HP
    April 18, 2010

    How “poverty” in itself prevents a student from boarding a school bus is beyond my comprehension.

    That says an awful lot about your comprehension.

  8. #8 Jason
    April 19, 2010

    Re:Robert C…..How about needing to work? Or take care of younger siblings bc they can’t afford care? Or that nobody actually has school buses anymore and they can’t get transportation. I think those are purely SES reasons. Didn’t include ones that might be considered cultural but i’d argue are SES too, like being too dangerous going through the neighborhood

  9. #9 Azkyroth
    April 19, 2010

    I think you are afraid to use the word “culture”, and refer to “poverty” instead. How “poverty” in itself prevents a student from boarding a school bus is beyond my comprehension. Other than that, I agree – vetoing this bill was fully justified. If teachers feel intimidated by being held responsible for factors beyond their control, no sane person would want to work at schools that are in a PARTICULAR need of good teachers.

    Quite ignoring whether parents have enough time, not spent working four jobs to be able to pay the rent and at least one of the utility bills that month, to contribute to student understanding and success, where do YOU get school supplies, computer equipment, and decent educational supplementary materials for free? A lot of inner city families would like to know.

  10. #10 Robert C.
    April 19, 2010

    “where do YOU get school supplies, computer equipment”

    How about a pencil and a sheet of paper?. You can argue that kids cannot program in C#, because of the lack of computers, and this, in turn, is caused by insufficient funds. But this is nonsense. The actual sad truth is that kids cannot READ, and this is caused by CULTURAL, not ECONOMIC limiting factors.

  11. #11 Dean Austin
    April 19, 2010

    Robert C has it right. Poor people are poor because they want to be poor. In other words, they freely partake in a “poverty culture”. It’s very convenient. It allows heartless assholes to sleep soundly at night by convincing themselves that there’s nothing that can be done to help the poor.

  12. #12 Robert C.
    April 19, 2010

    Actually, it is better (marginally, but still better) to be a heartless asshole and sleep soundly, rather than to be an outright harmful imbecile and (out of good intentions, of course!) AMPLIFY AND PERPETUATE the cultural factors that keep poor people poor and uneducated.

  13. #13 Michael Ralston
    April 19, 2010

    The cultural factors, like being unable to read because your parents are working until they come home and pass out in bed so they can’t teach you to read, and anyway you can’t afford to buy books to have at home, right?

    Or maybe you had something more specific in mind?

  14. #14 Azkyroth
    April 20, 2010

    Pencils and sheets of paper fall into the category of “school supplies,” don’t they? They ain’t free either (actually, the price of school-quality paper is idiotically high).

    I find your lack of reading comprehension ironic considering your subsequent comments.

    But, for the sake of argument, what cultural factors are you referring to?

  15. #15 Greg C.
    April 20, 2010

    “Pencils and sheets of paper fall into the category of “school supplies,” don’t they? “

    1. Certainly they do. Moreover, they fall into the category of “totally adequate school supplies”, as far as teaching reading/writing skills (the very ones our schools struggle with) is concerned. As for “ridiculously high prices of paper”, don’t be ridiculous. How far you guys can go into the nonsensical Wonderland to defend certain taboos?

    2. Yes, I have something more specific in mind. In certain segments of the society going to school and making an effort there is looked upon with derision, and THAT is the cultural problem that teachers face, not “high prices of paper” or “lack of computers”. Specific enough?

  16. #16 Troublesome Frog
    April 20, 2010

    Or maybe you had something more specific in mind?

    I don’t know about the other poster, but I would argue that, “Learning is stupid and you’re a loser if you bother to do it,” is a cultural issue that we have to a greater or lesser extent nationwide. Once students reach an age where that cultural issue has real influence over their behavior, I pity the teacher who has to get anything done with those students. Given cultural pressures in that direction, teachers need help from parents to push back against them in order to get anything done. The types of parents who can and will do this are typically more educated (put a high value on education) and have jobs that either allow them to be around their kids more to make sure that they’re studying or pay for a good child care program to do the same.

    If you don’t care about education or you’re not able to impress upon your child that they should care about school, they’re stuck being raised by our broken American anti-education culture. It’s not hard to teach a motivated kid of average intelligence. You barely need more than a pencil, paper, and a chalk board. They do it all over the world. Getting anything into the head of an unmotivated kid requires luck, skill, and a lot of one-on-one time. You can try to a high-priced multimedia extravaganza in place of it, but your odds aren’t good.

  17. #17 Greg (Robert) C.
    April 20, 2010

    Clarification: I just accidentally typed my middle name in the previous post. I didn’t intend to “multiply” my identities.

  18. #18 Michael Ralston
    April 20, 2010

    Yes, I have something more specific in mind. In certain segments of the society going to school and making an effort there is looked upon with derision, and THAT is the cultural problem that teachers face

    White suburban schools have large populations of students who have that kind of ‘culture’, and yet they are far more successful than the poverty-level inner-city students. That seems to not be a cultural factor with predictive capacity.

  19. #19 Robert C.
    April 20, 2010

    “Go into any inner city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach our kids to learn. They know that parents have to teach, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.

    State Sen. Barack Obama
    Keynote Address
    2004 Democratic National Convention
    FleetCenter, Boston, MA
    Tuesday, July 27, 2004

  20. #20 Azkyroth
    April 20, 2010

    1. Certainly they do. Moreover, they fall into the category of “totally adequate school supplies”, as far as teaching reading/writing skills (the very ones our schools struggle with) is concerned. As for “ridiculously high prices of paper”, don’t be ridiculous. How far you guys can go into the nonsensical Wonderland to defend certain taboos?

    That sort of thing adds up, and there are families whose income is so limited that buying school supplies would cut noticeably into the grocery budget. If you’re going to make a generalization it should at least sort of account for all of the people you apply it to.

    2. Yes, I have something more specific in mind. In certain segments of the society going to school and making an effort there is looked upon with derision

    Actually, as Michael Ralston observed, this is true of pretty much all segments of society, but only seems to impact (or, at least, disproportionately impacts) the performance of those who are already poor.

  21. #21 Rob Monkey
    April 21, 2010

    Yeah, those kids don’t need them fancy computers and such! They’ll do just fine with pencil and paper! Exactly what kinds of jobs or colleges do these kids end up in? Hope it’s not something that involves computers, they should just look for one of those pencil and paper jobs out there. Shit, even working at the pencil and paper factory requires computer skills. Can you even imagine getting a handwritten resume? As for the whole culture thing, well you know what might improve the standing of education and learning in these cultures? Improving the goddamn schools! How hard is that to understand, that sending kids to shitty schools makes them dislike education? Then those kids end up having kids who take that bad idea from their parents, as well as getting to attend said shitty school, resulting in a loop.

  22. #22 Robert C.
    April 21, 2010

    As far as learning the reading/writing skills, they will indeed do just fine with pencils and paper, just as kids around the world do (including countries with MUCH HIGHER LEVELS OF POVERTY than American inner cities). If the kids can’t even read, you are not giving them a computer. You are giving them a video game, while actually doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to fight illiteracy. But it sure makes you feel good, even though the only “resume” they will be able to create with their ‘computer’ will be the top scores list. Is this REALLY so hard to understand, or perhaps the PC taboo is so strong that it overrides logic and common sense on the emotional level?

  23. #23 Azkyroth
    April 22, 2010

    As far as learning the reading/writing skills, they will indeed do just fine with pencils and paper, just as kids around the world do (including countries with MUCH HIGHER LEVELS OF POVERTY than American inner cities). If the kids can’t even read, you are not giving them a computer. You are giving them a video game, while actually doing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to fight illiteracy. But it sure makes you feel good, even though the only “resume” they will be able to create with their ‘computer’ will be the top scores list. Is this REALLY so hard to understand, or perhaps the PC taboo is so strong that it overrides logic and common sense on the emotional level?

    Nice little strawman screed, now respond to something someone here has actually proposed.

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