Thursday, January 12, 2012
Bloomberg's State of the City address: an administration that has run out of education ideas -- even bad ones
The education proposals in Bloomberg’s State of the City address are being described as “ambitious” in the New York Times and GothamSchools. I see it differently.
First he claimed that “By almost any measure, students are doing better and our school system is heading in the right direction.” Of course that is not the case at all. By most reliable measures, achievement has stagnated and our students are falling further behind their peers in the other large cities.
Not surprisingly, Bloomberg focused in his speech on the controversial factor of teacher “quality.” The first education proposal he mentioned in the speech is to recruit better new teachers by repaying the college loans for those who graduated in the top quartile of their class, giving them an extra $5000 per year for up to five years of teaching. I’m not sure if this means even higher subsidies for TFA’ers without proper training or certification, including those who don’t intend to stay for more than a couple of years anyway. In any case, since the city intends to allow the teaching force to continue to contract over the next few years and will not be hiring many new teachers, I’m not sure what the likely effect of this proposal would be, if any.
His second proposal was ridiculous. The mayor said he wants to improve teacher retention by re-introducing teacher merit pay -- giving a $20,000 raise to teachers rated “highly effective” for two years in a row. Teacher merit pay has been tried all over the country and has failed according to nearly every study, to increase either student achievement or teacher retention. NYC tried starting merit pay in 2007, wasted $75 M on it and dropped it in 2010, because it had null results, according to studies by Roland Fryer and RAND. Both analyses also concluded there was no evidence it worked to increase teacher retention.
In response to horrified tweets from Randi Weingarten and me, Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson tweeted that the “evidence” for merit pay could be found in a recent NY Times article about the bonus pay program that is part of DC’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system . When Lisa Fleisher of the WSJ pointed out in a tweet that the evidence in that article was purely anecdotal, Wolfson responded "Good enough for me."
When the article was first published, I called it a “puff piece” and an example of the worst kind of journalism, because it glossed over the numerous studies that have shown merit pay doesn’t work to improve retention, while quoting a couple of DC teachers who said their bonuses might keep them teaching in DC schools longer. A good summary of some of the other research on this subject is posted in today’s Shanker Blog, which points out that there has been no published study of the effect of the DC IMPACT teacher evaluation system, and that the majority of studies suggest that financial incentives have negligible positive effects on the teaching force.
(Apparently, the leadership of the DC Public Schools canceled a proposed study of the IMPACT system because they would not accept the methodology proposed by Roland Fryer, the researcher that had been selected. New doubts have been raised about whether the IMPACT system even correctly identifies the best teachers, as most of those who have been found to be “highly effective” work in neighborhoods with the most advantaged students. As teachers rated ineffective can be fired, the system seems to have provided a powerful disincentive against working with the highest needs students.)
Clearly the Mayor and his staff read the NY Times, since he also quoted an unfortunate oped in today’s Times by Nicholas Kristof, in which Kristof described the recent study on the long-term value of a good teacher and mistakenly concluded that the findings showed that five percent of teachers should be fired based on their student test scores. Kristof ignored the cautionary tone of the study, which warned that placing high-stakes on tests could lead to even more test prep and cheating – the sort of negative effects that have undermined schools here in NYC and elsewhere in recent years.
The mayor also announced (ho hum) that the DOE would create one hundred new schools over the next two years, including fifty more charter schools. He said that he had asked KIPP and Success Academy to “expedite” their expansion and that he had invited Rocketship charter schools – a much-hyped chain of charters that started in California and offers online instruction with huge class sizes – to come to NYC.
Finally, he said DOE would seek to obtain the $58 million in School Improvement grants that the state is withholding because of the deadlock between the DOE and the UFT, by setting up “school-based evaluation committees” that could fire up to half of teachers. How this would work I have no idea, but the DOE released a letter dated tomorrow, from Chancellor Walcott to Commissioner King that has a lot about switching schools from “transformation” and “restart” to “turnaround,” (while letting those private managers like New Visions keep their big bucks for “restart” schools) but doesn’t mention these committees except to say that DOE will “measure and screen existing staff using rigorous, school-based competencies…”
Anyway, not an inspiring speech and not one based on any change in direction or real vision for education, but more of the same damaging free-market policies of expanding privatization and high stakes accountability that he has pursued for the last nine years, without any evidence that they work, except for misleading and flimsy newspaper articles. It is very sad that in the second half of the mayor’s third term, Bloomberg has so run out of new ideas that he is impelled to re-introduce an expensive and useless experiment that was tried and abandoned only two years ago -- because it had utterly failed.