Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Roland Fryer, Snooki, and Building the Perfect Teacher

By Monica Caldwell
People are always surprised to find out that I wasn't an education major in college.   As a hotel/motel management major I learned a lot about how to deal with employees.  This knowledge was further augmented when I began managing a tanning salon at the tender age of 20.  Teaching was the hardest job I ever had and the five weeks of training leading up to it was even tougher than the nearly 2 whole years I spent in the classroom.

Recently, a couple of studies have come out that really got me thinking.   The first study was by the awesome Roland Fryer.  He says that the key to making merit pay work is loss aversion.  Now math is hard, but the way I understand it instead of giving teachers money if they show improvement on tests, you give them the money up front and then if their students' test scores don't improve they either cough up the dough, or your Uncle Rocco pays them a little visit.   If they're like me, they'd probably spend it all on shoes.

Another really cool report I read was called The Irreplaceables.   Now, this isn't to be confused with The Expendables which is a movie about a lot of old guys blowing stuff up, but an article by The New Teacher Project says that urban schools are not making their best teachers feel valued and instead retaining the bad ones.  I can relate to this.  The fire in my classroom wasn't what got me terminated as much as all the other teachers who were jealous of my rapport with my class going to the principal.

What we need is a way to make teachers feel rewarded, retain the best teachers, and use loss aversion to scare teachers into working really hard.  Now, if you believe like I do, the best teachers come from programs like Teach for America, this is really easy.   When teachers go through the Teach for America program, put like a dozen of them up in a mansion that they could never afford on a teacher's salary.  Then as the school year goes on, have teachers vote each other out of the mansion, but if your kids improve on standardized tests, you have immunity.

The best part is we film this as a reality television show.  Now one problem is Teach for America's training is only 5 weeks and a reality tv show season is much longer, but that's fixed by following the recruits through the beginning of their teaching careers.  The teachers will try really hard because the mansion will have like a hot tub and cute guys and a kitchen that's totally stocked with everything you could want.  The good teachers will be retained and a few teachers may even get famous like Snooki.  Hey Bravo!  Call me, we'll do lunch.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Fear and Bloating in the Motor City

30,000 teachers descended on Detroit last weekend and I think I surprised a lot of people by being among them.  Why did I decide to go to a city without a single Michelin starred restaurant with these lazy public servants enjoying their luxurious Summer vacations?  Because I go where the story is.

I have a natural distrust of Randi Weingarten if for no other reason than the Weingarten Rights she won for union employees, but I soon found myself rooting for her in what seemed to be a battle between the New York union and the Chicago union.  One particular bill which the New York faction was behind suggested that perhaps excessive standardized testing wasn't the best idea.  Chicago wanted to go further and actually do something about it.  Fortunately, New York teachers are as good at pulling teeth as New York Dentists and the resolution was passed with a healthy set of gum and no choppers as of yet.

The speakers ran the gamut from sleep inducing to nausea inducing.  Dr. Wendel Anthony was my least favorite.  I was in the middle of a really nice sleep when he started speaking and he was just too loud for me to get back to slumber land. I think he was rapping to the Bee Gees or something.

Of course Diane Ravitch was there, making her usual excuses for the teachers.   If you haven't seen it yet, Michelle Rhee has a hysterical video of a fat guy as an Olympic athlete that talks about how the United States has slipped and we need to regain our status as the top education country in the world.   Ms. Ravitch naturally disputed this by pointing out that this wasn't true.  I hate the way she attempts to manipulate an audience using facts.  It doesn't matter if our schools are in crisis, what matters is what we're going to do about that crisis.  Diane again and again uses facts to stop people from seeing the crisis that we all know must exist in the public schools.
The great Joe Biden spoke at the convention as well.   Once again the  Chicago Teachers Union provided interesting theater.  Rather than calling for four more years for President Obama and Vice-President Biden, they fliered his speech with yellow papers that they held up during his speech that said Stop Race to the Top.  How disrespectful of a great American hero like Joe Biden.  Unfortunately, I had to leave early so I never did see who won the election to be head of the AFT for the next 2 years.  I'm really rooting for Randi, whose call for a solutions driven union reminds me very much of Neville Chamberlain's fine leadership of England in the years before World War II.  I think with Randi in charge, we will truly have peace in our time.