Teacher Union Logic… Maybe It’s Me

There are a number of weird statements in this article about the Providence Teacher Union’s attempts to protect seniority-based hiring. First is this statement, which I’m not sure is entirely meant to say what it does but indicates a mentality that surely exists in the public school system:

The new BEP is designed to ensure that the most effective teachers are placed in classrooms of students who have the most need.

If the “most effective” teachers are serving the children “most in need,” what about the other students? Somehow our system seems to favor hard cases, which is fine, to an extent, but it doesn’t seem like the best strategy for building a globe-leading advanced nation.
Then there’s the peculiar union worldview:

[Union lawyer Marc] Gursky says it makes no sense to talk about seniority before the state has rolled out a new system for teacher evaluations, which will begin to take place statewide this fall.
“To say that seniority can’t be a factor before you have an evaluation in place is like putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

Evaluations and minimizing seniority-based decisions would seem to go hand in hand. Indeed, one way to find a merit-based system that works is to let administrators begin experimenting.
But the weirdest statement may be this one, in reporter Linda Borg’s paraphrase:

The PTU argument is similar to one made by the Portsmouth School Committee two weeks ago. In a lawsuit filed against the Portsmouth Teachers Union, the School Committee claims that it has final say over how teachers are assigned. The committee, in April, approved a new hiring process that diminishes the role of seniority in staffing decisions.

The Providence Teacher’s Union is arguing that the state can’t insist on an end to seniority, and the Portsmouth School Committee is arguing that it has a right to end seniority in contravention of contractual habits. How are those the same?

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Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“…one way to find a merit-based system that works is to let administrators begin experimenting.”
A goal without method. What could possibly go wrong? Here’s a hint, administrators will implement all types of plans (none of them effective) and all will claim success since none think they are poor judges of talent.

mangeek
mangeek
10 years ago

“it makes no sense to talk about seniority before the state has rolled out a new system for teacher evaluations, which will begin to take place statewide this fall”
This has been the source of the runaround for YEARS now:
Parents/Taxpayers: “We need to make sure that teachers are performing, and seniority shouldn’t be the sole determinant of who keeps their job.”
Teachers: “But we need to make sure that teachers who take tough assignments don’t get punished for underperforming scores, you can’t just use test scores alone.”
P/T: “Then use ‘math’ to come up with a viable, meaningful evaluation system. You already collect all the data needed.”
Teac.: “OK, we’ll have something ready next year. Until then, don’t do this.”
P/T: “OK, you have another year.”
Wash. Rinse. Forget. Repeat.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

There goes the same old nay-saying Russ again. “Here’s what is wrong, I’m not telling you how to fix it…” I’m still waiting to see his model for the public schools.

msteven
msteven
10 years ago

BobN is right. I doubt Russ has any interest in changing anything related to the public school systems. And his argument is the imperfection of any solution due to the potential ineffective ideas of administrators. Of course, the current system which gives teachers no responsibility for being effective … well, what could go wrong with that?
I’ll acknowledge there is no simple solution that eliminates all unfairness or iniquities. But trying something to change the current way of defining merit simply as seniority is a start.
I also like and agree with mangeek’s post. Good one – and sadly close to reality.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

Actually, the solution is simple, although it may not be easy to implement. Privatize and deregulate the entire K-12 education industry. Allow all sort of creative people to offer their teaching services in many different ways to parents who will pay for the service of educating their kids. The school system will evolve instead of being in the stagnant, Soviet condition it is in today.
The first thing is to let go of the Marxist concept of “fairness”. Fairness is not spending an equal amount of money on each child regardless of his family’s income. It is providing a fair value for the parent’s investment of money and time. Fancy technology (my favorite waste is the “smartboard”) and cultural indoctrination (“health education”) are not necessary for teaching a child useful knowledge, the ability to think, and a high level of culture. We’ve done very well with blackboards and notebooks since the 18th century, and look at the great minds those primitive methods turned out.
Education is not a public good. Public goods are resources that by their nature are shared: oceans, rivers, radio spectrum. Education is a private good. And it should be earned and paid for, just as with cars, furniture, televisions and computers.

msteven
msteven
10 years ago

I agree with you to some extent – the problem is that education from K thru 12 IS a public responsibility. The government requires this and pays for this service. And that reality isn’t going to change in the reasonable future to where education. Unfortunately, all sides want to take full advantage of this and get the most ‘personal gain’ – school employees, parents and children. I’m not sure I agree with treating education as a private product such as cars, furniture or technical devices although the irony is that too many people thinking of it as existing for their benefit only – not unlike most other things these days.
The problem is that since education is required and publicly funded, inherent in that is the intent on being distributed fairly. This makes it unlike room and board. I am with you on the waste of public funds on devices such as ‘smart boards’ and worse yet are the silly educational requirements for public school teachers.
Primary education is not going to be privatized – not a realistic option as a solution. But my solution, which is all sides – parents, teachers, etc. – not acting selfishly – is already proven not to be realistic either.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

For most of our country’s history, primary education was private, or if public, it was locally controlled and funded, not by state or federal government, and it didn’t do us any harm. If you read up on the history of public education you’ll see that it was modeled by John Dewey on the Prussian system, whose purpose was expressly the indoctrination of obedient subjects of the state.
All it would take to change the system is a couple of conservative governments. First step is abolish the Dept. of Education (a typical Jimmy Carter disaster) and take the feds completely out of both funding and regulation. Second is to establish right-to-work legislation to break the union stranglehold on the system. Third is to de-regulate at the state level so that education entrepreneurs have the freedom to establish schools without being crushed by the state/union regulatory monopoly.
I think it could be done in less than twenty years, possibly twelve.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

If the “most effective” teachers are serving the children “most in need,” what about the other students? Welcome to the unintending consequences of high-stakes standardized testing, Justin. Who could have known they would skew the system like that, eh? (ahem, Deming) msteven, my objection is from a process improvement standpoint. Read what Deming said about “goals without a method.” Deming, of course, did proscribe a course for what to do in education which I’ve posted here many times. BobN just doesn’t like what Deming had to say. For those that are interested, I found another article talking about what to do based on quality improvement best practices. “Quality in Education According to the Teachings of Deming and Feuerstein” http://www.icelp.org/files/research/demingfeuerstein.pdf There are remarkable similarities in what the two men have taught. To begin, both men recognized that if you want a better product, you have to work on improving the process that produces the product. If it is a product of manufacture, then you must devote time and develop formal procedures to improve the process of manufacture. If you want a better education, you must improve the learning process. In quality management, quality circles are organized. Improvement teams are chartered. Feuerstein’s analogous contribution is the Instrumental Enrichment Session, featuring Mediated Learning Experiences. Deming always emphasized that inspection at the end of the line does no good. Sorting the good from the bad does not improve efficiency. It does not affect the process itself. It encourages wasteful habits. Feuerstein takes the same view towards examinations. In Feuerstein’s words, “The only legitimate reason for an examination is so that the teacher and learner can figure out what to do next.” The examination as a test of the past is of no value for increased learning ability. Like all external motivators, it can produce… Read more »

msteven
msteven
10 years ago

I certainly won’t disagree that the Departmrent of Education at the Federal level was a complete waste of money and everything else it involves.
Your whole idea could be implemented in 12-15 years IF there was mutual cooperation on all sides to do it. In other words, if a majority of people with power and money wanted it done. Give that is extremely far from reality, the twelfth of never is a more realistic date for total privatizing of education.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

btw, whether the schools are private or public is totally irrelevant except as an example of what many of these school “reform” folks really want, to use reform as a stalking horse for privatizing the public school system.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

So what are you going to do, agree to leave the present Soviet-style system in place because changing it would be hard? Russ wrongly says that I don’t agree with Deming. I do. I am saying that Russ either doesn’t understand Deming or is using his name under false pretenses. All of Deming’s work focused on improving results by improving processes based on rigorous measurement of relevant standards (the key here is “relevant”) and encouraging creative problem-solving and innovation by those closest to the product in each phase of the process. Russ wants to use Deming’s words to excuse a purposeful failure to define results and escape accountability. He doesn’t say why he wants to do this. Perhaps it is to perpetuate the extended, irresponsible adolescence of unionized teachers in the tenured system under state control, because they are his political allies. Perhaps, like most on the Left, it is because he has only done ten percent of the required thinking about the issue and then repeats the parts that appeal to his prejudices. If you let go of the a priori belief that education must be publicly funded and managed, you can consider the economic and human realities of the issue. As long as education is a government project it will be both unsustainably expensive and inhumane. Note that the only system that really encourages creative problem-solving and innovation by those closest to the product is a system of private education, in which entrepreneurial teachers compete to offer the best value to their customers. Just like any other business. “But my solution, which is all sides – parents, teachers, etc. – not acting selfishly – is already proven not to be realistic either. While I understand the noble sentiment behind this statement, if a proposed solution is already proven… Read more »

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

All of Deming’s work focused on improving results by improving processes based on rigorous measurement of relevant standards (the key here is “relevant”) and encouraging creative problem-solving and innovation by those closest to the product in each phase of the process.

Bob’s not alone in this mistaken belief, but it’s not true. Notably Bob never quotes anything from Deming’s writings to back up his claims.
I’ve debunked this one over and over, so instead here’s an experiment: cut and paste the following into a search engine and tell me what comes up.
“The most important things cannot be measured.”

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

btw, Bob’s absolutely right about that last part (“improving results by… encouraging problem-solving and innovation by those closest to the product in each phase of the process”).

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

” All of Deming’s work focused on improving results by improving processes based on rigorous measurement of relevant standards (the key here is “relevant”) and encouraging creative problem-solving and innovation by those closest to the product in each phase of the process. Bob’s not alone in this mistaken belief, but it’s not true. Notably Bob never quotes anything from Deming’s writings to back up his claims. I’ve debunked this one over and over, so instead here’s an experiment: cut and paste the following into a search engine and tell me what comes up.” Russ, you may think you have debunked it, but I don’t think that a poll of AR readers would agree. You are welcome to continue your self-deception, but you aren’t learning anything. And your response proves that you do not understand Deming. Of course, “the most important thing cannot be measured.” You fail to quote the context. How about quoting enough to reveal what Deming meant by that “most important thing”? Sure, the great, human insight that Deming found is that Taylor-style time-and-motion measurement is inimicable to a productive corporate culture, and measuring the wrong things is as useless as not measuring at all, perhaps even more destructive because of the self-deception it entails. The freedom and respect that are essentially to creativity, innovation and motivation may not be a measurable thing. But that does not mean his method is not based on measuring the relevant, meaningful factors that result in quality. In fact, it all arose from his development of the method of statistical process control. Even Semco, perhaps the most democratic, free-wheeling corporate culture outside of crowd-sourcing, measures the productivity of its people individually and in teams and pays profit-sharing bonuses accordingly. And still, Russ, you take the negative but never actually make your own… Read more »

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

And still, Russ, you take the negative but never actually make your own specific recommendation for solving the problem.

I’ve offered more by far than anyone else here, including again in this thread. I say, do what Kohn recommends.
http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/progressive.htm
As for my own recommendation (one based on my professional experience), the most important recommendation is to put in place a quality improvement process (Plan, Do, Check, Act), and let the teachers decide how to improve the system. You can do that, or you can do management by objective. You can’t do both.

mangeek
mangeek
10 years ago

> “if you want a better product, you have to work on improving the process that produces the product.”
So why is it that teacher contracts are loaded with minutiae concerning break times and what can or can’t be on the union’s corkboard, instead of demands that every student be fully furnished with books and supplies?
I’m not meaning to attack the unions here, but It seems that my teaching friends complain more about the condition of the facilities and the availability of supplies quite a bit, why not put THAT into the contract?

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

So Russ, you want to maintain the same government ownership of schools, the same union organization with its book-thick, micromanaged work-rule contracts, and somehow teachers will magically be free to teach however they want, and the outcome will be better?
As for the recommendation you gave it is a pathetic attempt. Tell me, if you aren’t measuring some kind of results, what will you plan, and what will you “check” in your loop? Presumably “check” includes measuring something, otherwise there is nothing on which to “act”.
Unless you can explain yourself, your post shows that all you can do is (mis)quote but you have nothing of your own to say.
I have already rejected the self-congratulatory, psychobabble blather of Alfie Kohn. How would you implement it? Furthermore, if all you can do is provide an url to his page, and you can’t explain specific changes you would make to the present system, you demonstrate that you don’t really understand him any more than you do Deming.
One of the problems with the internet is that someone can easily find something that seems to sound good, point other people to it, and believe that he has learned something and said something useful.
In essence all you said is, “Just put a feedback loop process in place and it will manage itself.” You follow up by creating a straw man – nobody here has advocated “management by objective.”

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“Presumably ‘check’ includes measuring something, otherwise there is nothing on which to ‘act’. ”
That’s the problem faced by true reformers. Folks like you want to measure something, anything, even if that’s actually harmful to the quality of the process. You seem to be saying is there is no way to know if schools “preserve and nurture the yearning for learning that everone is born with” without numerical measures, which I say is nonsense. Believe it or not, I know how well my kids’ schools measure up without looking at any spreadsheets.
For the record, here’s what Deming suggested we do (we can assume because of his deep love of measurements). From “The New Economics,” p.145:

A remark on education. There is deep concern in the United States today about education. No notable improvement will come until our schools:
– Abolish grades (A, B, C, D) in school from toddlers on up through the university. When graded, pupils put emphasis on the grade, not on learning. Cooperation on a project in school may be considered cheating… The greatest evil from grades is forced ranking–only (e.g.) 20 percent of pupils may receive A. Ridiculous. There is no shortage of good pupils.
– Abolish merit ratings for teachers.
– Abolish comparison of schools on the basis of scores.
– Abolish gold stars for athletics or for best costume.
…Our schools must preserve and nurture the yearning for learning that everone is born with (see p.121). Joy in learning comes not so much from what is learned, but from learning.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

Let’s try it this way, should phy ed teachers be evaluated and ranked based on the amount of weight their students lose? Why not? Don’t you want them to be accountable based on visible measures?
Maybe the federal government should mandate the number of push-ups and pull-ups that each student should perform and we’ll rank the schools on that. Fair or nonsense? And what do you think the effect would be on phys ed if we did?

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

Strawman argument: insisting that I’m looking for numerical measurement or “forced ranking”. The concept of measurement is critical to the decision about advancement. I agree that “grading on a curve” is nonsense. Keep in mind that curve grading is part of the Progressive, therapeutic system designed to raise the self-esteem of poorly performing students. Frankly, with a correct set of absolute standards and a good teacher I’d be thrilled if every student got straight As.
How would your system differ from today’s “social promotion”, in which kids who have obviously not learned the subject get promoted and graduate? Isn’t that a disservice to the children?
About your constant appeal to out-of-context quotes, once again, I’ll say: For a self-styled “reformer” you sure don’t seem to have any ideas of your own. At least you could recap the ideas of your idols and explain why they are so good in your own words.
There is also less of a debate here than it might seem. Note also that my recommended system of a free market of private schools does not forbid the creation of measurement-free, “Progressive” schools following the model of your idol. Of course they would have the freedom to compete with other schools, and the real-world results as measured by the parents and children who are their customers will determine which are the best methods.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“About your constant appeal to out-of-context quotes…” You repeatedly make that nonsense charge. It’s actually getting kind of boring. “For a self-styled ‘reformer’ you sure don’t seem to have any ideas of your own.” Another hang-up of yours I don’t get. Notably everything you’ve proposed I’ve heard before as well. Big deal. And btw I’m not an education reformer. Not sure what gave you that idea. I’m a parent and an engineer with a background in quality improvement. “Note also that my recommended system of a free market of private schools does not forbid the creation of measurement-free, “Progressive” schools…” I agree and have said it many times here on the blog. In fact, I said it above (“btw, whether the schools are private or public is totally irrelevant…”). Don’t you have any ideas of your own?! As for social promotion, the question is only what’s best for the kid. Some kids may benefit by being moved up, others by staying at grade for an additional year. As for what Deming had to say… Because of such folly, I do not give grades to my students. They all pass. I read the papers that my students turn in, not to grade them, but: To learn how I as a teacher am doing. In what ways am I failing? How can I improve my teaching? To discover whether any student is in need of special help, and to see that he gets it. To discover whether any student is extra well prepared and could receive benefit from extra work. For one such student I suggested the study of the theroy of extreme values. She was fascinated with the study. So was I. Students may take their time; do not rush a paper to me. Some of the best papers have come… Read more »

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

I understand that your juvenile attitude makes you easily bored. Tough.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“Young D.C. principal quits and tells why”
http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/young-dc-principal-quits-and-tells-why/2011/06/19/AGfcP6kH_story_2.html

[Principal Bill Kerlina] said he is quitting a system that evaluates teachers but doesn’t support their growth, that knuckles under to unreasonable demands from parents, and that focuses excessively on recruiting neighborhood families to a school where most students come from outside the attendance zone…
He offered another solution: Move the school toward “inquiry-based learning,” stressing group activities, hands-on projects and student curiosity. It’s standard practice, he said, at the private school across 37th Street NW.
“The reason people spend [more than $30,000] a year to send their children to Sidwell is because they believe in inquiry-based learning,” Kerlina wrote. “DCPS does not — the approach is too scripted and doesn’t allow for students to think outside of the box.”

Standard practice at elite private schools, eh? Hmmm, haven’t I heard that one before?

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

Here’s the difference between our posts on this topic, Russ. I am proposing specific reforms that change our present system into a constructive one that uses free-market principles to offer the best possible education solutions to everyone by letting them choose what kind of school they want. You are advocating one particular method of instruction, while not addressing what steps you would take to change from the present system.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“I am proposing specific reforms that change our present system…”
You are? So dismantling the system and hoping for the best counts as a plan?
Me, I think a plan to move toward ““inquiry-based learning,” stressing group activities, hands-on projects and student curiosity,” a system already used in many elite private schools, is much more specific than the fairy-dust and moonbeams recipe advocated by those that would destroy the system to save it.
I’ve also provided specifics for the method to perform process immprovement based on industry best practices. The outcomes of those activities aren’t for me to proscribe. That’s for the educators, parents, and administrators, which since you know Deming is at the heart of continuous process improvement.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

btw, you’re free now to choose the school you want. Both my kids attend private schools. It’s neither here nor there and has nothing to do with Justin’s erroneous supposition about pseudo “merit-based system[s]” being effective methods of process improvement.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

Yes. I know it’s hard for you socialist, central-planning lovers to understand, but the free market system works much better than any top-down plan imposed by government bureaucrats and politicians, no matter how idealistic.
And the current tiny group of private schools is not a sufficient solution to the problem of our miserable excuse for a public school system if we all have to pay for the socialist monster while paying even more for private schools. And even then, most of the money we spend on public schools is wasted as that system fails the children. It is time to get government out of the education business.

Russ
Russ
10 years ago

“…works much better than any top-down plan imposed by government bureaucrats and politicians, no matter how idealistic.”
The irony is I’m not the one defending the top-down plan imposed by government bureaucrats and politicians. That’s the so-called reforms I’m against.
I could also note that idea of eliminating public schols is hardly your own idea. I think I mentioned before that you sound a bit like Lew Rockwell.

BobN
BobN
10 years ago

You say that like it’s a bad thing. But I’ve been writing and speaking about privatizing primary education for about twenty years, which would be fifteen years longer than I’ve known of Rockwell.

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