Sunday, August 28, 2011

Extending School Day is The Answer to All Our Problems

Last Stand for Children First has been involved in the education reform movement in Chicago since last winter when we were asked by Mayor elect Rahm Emanuel and business leaders in the Civic Federation to help with their grassroots efforts to fundamentally change education in the city.  This effort came to fruition with the passage of SB7 and now with Mayor Emanuel's attempts to impose a longer school day.

The teachers are being most uncooperative really.  After having their 4% raise voted down because the schools didn't have enough money, we promised to find a way to give them half their raise if they would only work another 327 1/2 hours.  That's a tidy little $3.08 per hour for a beginning teacher.   When Jimmy Carter signed the law in 1977 to raise the federal minimum wage to $2.90 an hour in 1979 and $3.10 an hour in 1980, I don't think he realized he was insulting teachers with this paltry raise.  Throughout the early 1980s beginning fast food workers and dishwashers lived on $3.10 an hour and were happy to get it.  However, teachers with their fancy degrees somehow think a 2% pay increase for 29% more work is beneath them.

In 1982, my father was working at Burger King making barely over $3.10 an hour, but he didn't complain.  He worked hard and after he graduated from Dartmouth, he became a very successful Hedge Fund Manager.   Surely, teachers can step up their effort just a little as well.

Many babysitters get only $5 or $10 an hour to watch one child.  It doesn't seem unfair to me to ask a teacher to supervise a room full of students.  After all, when you get to 35 or 40 students, they mostly just supervise themselves or at least the bigger students are able to impose their will on the smaller ones.

Even more insulting is that Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis refused to sit on the board to discuss how the extra 90 minutes would be imposed.  Is it too much to ask that she provide a little political cover by making it appear that the teachers were consulted?   After all, in exchange she would be on the panel giving the teachers in the city just much say in how the extra time would be spent as Father Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina’s Church or Robin Steans of Advance Illinois.

The value of a longer school day should be obvious.  Chicago grammar schools have 946 hours instruction in a year.  Houston grammar schools have 1305 hours of instruction per year and New York has 930.  Once our students are given that extra time, they will have 4 years more instruction than students in other big cities like New York and Los Angeles by the time they graduate.  Only then will Chicago students be able to rise to the level of education juggernauts like the Houston Public Schools.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

New York Judge's Ruling Throws Fantasy Season Into Disarray

At the Last Stand for Children First offices this afternoon, things were going crazy.  Staffers were on their computers and phones trying to get the latest on a state court ruling in New York that ordered the New York city school draft to release the test data on all it's public school teachers.

This announcement immediately threw our Fantasy School Draft into disarray.  For the last few months we've all been scouting the Los Angeles school district statistics trying to put together our dream faculties for this season.  We always hold the draft on the weekend after Labor Day when classroom rosters have settled in a bit.  After all, one low achiever being transferred into your teacher's class can cost you valuable points.  Our season was very competitive last season and I believe I only lost because two different teachers were saddled with less than perfect students who were counseled out of Green Dot schools.

It’s just as exciting as other fantasy sports and gives you a rooting interest in standardized tests that you don’t normally care about.  The advantage of starting the league now, is the schools are fairly settled and you are less likely to have a student transfer or a surprise pregnancy spoiling your fantasy season.

The rules are rather simple.   You must select a faculty consisting of the following teachers:
  • Two for each of the 8 primary grades
  • Two substitute teachers taken from any grade
  • One ESL teacher
  • One Special Ed Teacher
  • We are looking forward to President’s Physical Fitness results being online soon so that we can draft gym teachers.
  • One Principal 
  • One Assistant Principal
The draft can last for 4 or 5 hours before 24 schools in our fantasy school district are filled.  I was let down by my 6th and 3rd grade faculty.   Fortunately, there is no such thing as tenure in Fantasy School and they have been let go.   There are several scoring options, but we go by student improvement.   I have been pouring through newspapers and websites looking for  the teachers who I think will be on the top of their games.   I found out one of my early favorites is pregnant and another one who is from Teach for America is hedging her bets on staying in the classroom for the entire year.  It's always dicey when you select TFAers in their second year.

Because we go by the amount of improvement, taking the best students isn’t enough.  If some teacher out in the wealthy suburbs takes on  a homeroom where 95% of the students are meeting or exceeding standards, they can only get you 5 points and in fact they’ll probably go down.   On the other hand, a teacher at an inner city school who brings up students from 30% meeting standards to 52% meeting standards is going to win you the pot at the end of the year.  I try and look for young teachers who are still worried about their job and more likely to teach to the test.

With New York city teachers included, we now have very little time to scout a whole new group of teachers.  I have a few friends in New York that I hope I can hit up for scouting reports.  

Monday, August 22, 2011

1997 Studey Reveals the Power of Mediocrity in the classroom

As the new school year starts, millions of parents across this country are hoping their child will have an excellent teacher to help guide them through their new classes. However, never research into the data from a 1997 study of Dallas schoolchildren by Last Stand for Children First shows that a mediocre teacher may be better.

The 1997 study "Teacher Effects on Longitudinal Student Achievement" was not only a real page turner, this landmark Dallas study by Jordan, Mendro, and Weerasinghe has been frequently cited in the media by education reformers as evidence that a student who has 2 superior teachers in a row will probably go on to greatness, while a student will two poor teachers in a row, will probably be going through parks with a pointy stick looking for soda cans to sell to recyclers. Michelle Rhee in particular enjoys using this quote to show just how important great teachers are.

In a recent study funded by Last Stand for Children First and conducted at the Ponds Institute of Statistical Research has concluded that in the 1997 study who had 2 excellent teachers and one mediocre teacher in consecutive years showed a median score 8% higher than a student who had 3 excellent teachers in a row. This is groundbreaking research conducted on thousands of children, but little is known as to why mediocrity has such power.

Researchers conjecture that a mediocre teacher gives students a chance to relax, nap and generally catch a breath or possibly that mediocre teachers enhance the ability of students to develop filters to figure out what their teachers are saying that is actually important enough to listen to.

For more information on this landmark study, please see the following blog post, which while written from an anti-reform perspective summarizes the methodology very well and provides a link to the raw data itself.

What the data does show is that elevating the teaching profession and attracting excellent candidates and nurturing them to  become excellent teachers may not be the best strategy in increasing student learning.  Further study is needed to examine the negative impact of further excellent pedagogy on a student who has already had too many excellent teachers.  It also seems clear in layoff decisions, mediocre teachers need to be preserved as a priority, especially in a school that already has an issue with too many excellent ones.