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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Diane Ravitch on "Frozen Assets" by Marguerite Roza

Diane Ravitch has a great oped in today’s Times on the “miracle” schools promoted by corporate reformers, that  all too often turn out to be based on PR spin, inflated test score results and/or sky high student attrition rates. 
She was also asked to comment by Bill Tucker of Ed Sector on a 2007  report, “Frozen Assets”, written by Marguerite Roza,  who is now at the Gates Foundation.  The subtitle is “Rethinking Teacher Contracts could Free Billions for School Reform.” In Roza’s view, wasteful spending mandated by teacher contracts includes class size limits, pension and health benefits, sick days, and seniority raises – which instead should be used for other purposes like merit pay.   In response, Diane succinctly tweeted one word: “unbelievable”.
Roza  claims  against all evidence that class size has little connection with learning, and that eroding pension and benefits for teachers will somehow enhance their professional lives.  Ridiculous claims like this one must have led the Gates Foundation to hire her. 
This report predates a more recent series of articles from the DC think thanks, including the Center for American Progress, the Fordham Institute, and Brookings, funded by the vast echo-chamber of the Gates Foundation and all focused on devaluing the importance of teaching experience and class size, ironically the only two observable factors that have been clearly shown to lead to more effective teaching.  Talk about “Frozen Assets”!  Gates has spent billions imposing wasteful and destructive policies in our public schools.
In the piece, Roza argues for increasing class size from 28.5 to 30, which would save a whole 2.26% of education spending, according to her calculations.  Meanwhile, she sends her own children to a Seattle school where class sizes average 20 in Kindergarten to 25 in 8th grade. 
Here is a link to a recent debate I had with Roza on Seattle public radio.  I post Diane’s commentary with her permission below:
 Dear Bill,
Thanks for the invitation to leave a comment. I read this report when it came out in 2007 (or was it late 2006) and at the time was not persuaded that it made any sense. Now that teachers are under attack across the nation, with state legislatures and governors whittling away their pensions, their health benefits, and their right to bargain collectively, the paper seems to have an eerie predictive quality. Yet I still think it makes no sense.

I fail to understand how the teaching profession will grow stronger if teachers lose their pensions and their health benefits. Teachers don’t go into the profession to get rich, but they do have an expectation that they can retire to a life of dignity after 25 or 30 years in the classroom, not a life of penury. From the teachers I know, I don’t think those benefits are overly generous. One of my nieces taught in an inner-city school in Florida for 20 years; she retired with a pension of $25,000. Is that too much? She is divorced and has two children to support.

I believe that experienced teachers should be paid more than new teachers. The studies use test scores as the measure of “effectiveness,” but as you know, there are many problems in doing so. I know teachers who work in hospital schools. Some of their students die, some transfer out. I know many teachers whose subjects are not tested. Should everything that is taught be tested? Some districts are moving in that direction, and from the look of things, there won’t be much time left for instruction, just test prep all the time.

Should teachers get no extra pay for education credentials and masters degrees? In Finland, every teacher is required to get a masters degree; the government pays the full cost of obtaining it. That government thinks it is a good investment. I think we should encourage teachers to get masters’ in the subject or subjects they teach, and for those who are teaching students with disabilities, a masters is essential. So by all means, let us not economize by removing rewards for additional education. After all, if the teacher does not love and respect learning, how can he or she transmit that love and respect to their students?

The report says that limits on class size are unnecessary, but the research I’ve seen shows that smaller classes are especially beneficial in the early grades and for minority students. Given the incredible diversity in American classrooms today–with some students barely speaking English, some with various disabilities, and many at different academic levels–larger classes will be very difficult to manage, and children who need extra help won’t get it, especially when districts lay off the teachers’ aides that the report says are superfluous.

I agree with the report that professional development should be far better than it is now, and that there should not be automatic payment for anything with that label. Professional development should be a time for teachers to learn from master teachers, to improve their classroom management skills, to deepen their knowledge of science or history or mathematics or literature. Go visit the Dallas Institute of Culture and the Humanities, and you will see teachers studying the classics, debating and dissecting great works of literature. That is wonderful professional development, and I would love to see more of it. The teachers I met say it fed their minds and sent them back to the classroom with renewed intellectual energy.

Are teachers getting too many sick and personal days? I have no idea, but teachers–unlike other professionals–interact daily with children who carry all sorts of illnesses into the classroom. This is an issue for the bargaining table, and I assume that every district has a way to calculate what is right and necessary.

The reason I find this report unbelievable is that I can’t understand how the education profession gets better if teachers have less experience, less education, and more crowded classrooms. I don’t get the logic.

I am not an economist, nor am I an accountant. I care about good education. I would like to see all our children get a great education. These policy proposals may save money, but I don’t see how they will improve the education profession or lead to better education -- Diane Ravitch


Michael Fiorillo said...

Is Ms. Roza aware that research conclusively demonstrates that life would be 12.9 % better if wealthy, arrogant know-nothings would stay out of fields they have no experience in?

Leonie Haimson said...

I don"t know about you, but my life would be 100% better if Bill Gates and the ignoramuses he funds turned their attention elsewhere! And NYC students would be alot better off instead.

Mark Ahlness said...

From a 30 year public school teacher in Seattle - thanks!

Farah said...

You began the radio debate by saying IES thinks there are "only" four education reforms that work. This is a flatout lie: IES offered class size as an "illustrative" example in explaining various concepts about research. It most certainly did not say that there are "only" four reforms that work.

Anonymous said...

Please cite research on your class size and advanced degrees points. Without citations, the way this reads is, "some people say class size doesn't matter, but that's just silly because class size matters." Anyone know of any good RECENT research on this or the advanced degree issue? And please don't respond with "everything I've read says [x]" or the like. Actual research, people.

Leonie Haimson said...


check out any of the fact sheets and links to the research on our website at and