What Chicago’s Schools Want to Evaluate In the District’s Own Words


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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117 Responses

  1. Avatar Roger says:

    Nice summary, Ethan

    Seems like things are pretty FUBAR from from every angle. Teachers that won’t be held accountable, administration which is bureaucratic and untrustworthy.

    I’d suggest constructive, open competition as the necessary solution. But I bet everyone already anticipated what my suggestion would be.

    Luckily, my grand kid lives in the northern suburbs and is a in a great program ( where my wife volunteers twice a week).Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Roger says:

      What would the competition be based on, out of curiosity?Report

      • Avatar Roger in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        I’d suggest parental choice based upon pretty much whatever parents want to select upon. I’d negotiate to something substantially narrower though.

        I’ve actually spent a lot of time talking in depth to various teachers inIllinois and California based upon the strange conversations had on these pages. I just could not understand why a college educated professional would support a union. After talking to teachers, it is clear they feel a very real need to protect themselves for the machine of educational bureaucracy. My eyes are opening.

        The teachers had a lot of good ideas on improving things.Report

  2. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I’d be interested in knowing more about what the evaluations mean, in terms of job security. That, along with the air conditioners, are the areas where I am most sympathetic to the teachers.

    I’m quite curious where the 16% raise is supposed to come from.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Will Truman says:

      Compounded interest over a number of years (but the math that I saw done got to 9ish% rather than 16%).Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Will Truman says:

      “I’m quite curious where the 16% raise is supposed to come from.”

      So is everyone else. The city isn’t making it clear, but I think the idea is that they get from 9% to 16% by including seniority raises.

      So I think the total spent on salaried teachers will go up by 16% in four years, but it’s not clear how that breaks down on a case by case basis. I could be wrong.

      The evaluations are grounds for being fired, but there’s no information yet that I’ve come across on what the timeline would be for that; what kind of remediation and intervention there would be, etc.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    3% of 47K a year is nothing, especially when you’re being asked to educated one of the most disadvantaged student populations in the country.

    From the article:
    Under the currently binding contract (pdf), 2010-11 annual teacher salaries ranged from $47,268 for teachers with bachelor’s degree with a year’s experience or less, to $88,680 for those with doctorates who have at least 16 years of experience. Those in schools with longer school years (42.6 weeks or 52 compared to 38.6) make commensurately more. All told, teachers in Chicago make an average of $74,839 a year. However, the school board rescinded the scheduled 4 percent pay increase set to take effect this past school year.

    To say the part that I find most interesting one more time:

    All told, teachers in Chicago make an average of $74,839 a year.

    Would it be worth comparing the average income in Chicago to the average teacher?

    Personally, I think that focusing on the teachers with bachelor’s degree with a year’s experience and using those numbers as starting points does more to obscure what’s going on than illuminate.

    (Jaybird Trivia: When I got my first job with only a bachelor’s degree and had less than a year’s experience, I made less than $47K.)Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

      Did that job require you to work with kids? To educate them against all of the socioeconomic odds of their existence?

      Did you work in a major city?

      Did you already have a year’s experience ($47k is not starting).

      Do you think that “$88,680 for those with doctorates who have at least 16 years of experience.” is too much? You have top credentials and are in peak earning years, and you don’t break $90k.

      I would offer that the average is pulled up by teachers that have been there a while. We can argue about whether teachers who have a lot of experience are on average better teachers, but it would seem unfair to hold that against those who are going into the profession, are put with the worst classes, etc.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        When I read “Under the currently binding contract (pdf), 2010-11 annual teacher salaries ranged from $47,268 for teachers with bachelor’s degree with a year’s experience or less,” that very much reads to me like salaries start out at $47k a year. I’m open to hearing what the actual starting salary is, if that is not correct.

        (I’m getting all my comments in now before it turns ugly and I duck out.)Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        “Do you think that “$88,680 for those with doctorates who have at least 16 years of experience.” is too much?”

        Do you?

        Just curious. If we’re haggling.Report

        • Not on it’s face. Given more information I could be persuaded.

          I’m more frustrated with people who wanting to draw false comparisons by negating every difference without explanation.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            That’s fair.

            I expect that there is a cold, hard reality down at the bottom of this hole.

            The areas that most need the best education are those who have lower economic mobility. Thus, they have the lowest wage averages. Thus, the people there who vote are going to be the least likely to have sympathy for people who make 2x to 3x what they make.

            Teachers might deserve $50k/year… to start… in Chicago. When the per capita income is half that, I don’t see how you can sustain paying them $50k/year, though. It seems politically impossible.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        No, no, kinda(19th market in the country, I recall someone saying), kinda/no (but the quotation I have from the article that you linked to is annual teacher salaries ranged from $47,268 for teachers with bachelor’s degree with a year’s experience or less and if that information is not accurate, could you provide me with a different, better, link?), depends (what salary should a person in peak earning years be earning? I haven’t broken 90K, myself).

        It does seem to me that we should either be arguing that good teachers should make more and we can figure out who is and who is not a good teacher *OR* that we have no real systematic way of distinguishing who is and who is not a good teacher and thus maintain job security to protect the children… but arguing that they both deserve raises and that we have no way to measure whether they might not deserve raises seems is something that strikes me as… well… something that you shouldn’t be able to have both ways.Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

          Not both ways. I’m fine with doing both, on the merits. The evidence in support of the argument that teachers should recieve cost of living adjustmetns is currently more compelling to me than the evidence supporting the argument that preferred educational outomces can so far be accurately tested for enough to warrent orienting curriculumn and practices around doing so.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            Fair enough. Keep in mind that your argument will be against people who tend to make less than the people you’re arguing ought to be making more, who will tend to have less job security than the people you’re arguing ought to have more, and who will tend to have more measurable benchmarks than the people you’re arguing shouldn’t be benchmarked as much as they are.

            But I’m one of those people whose job is nowhere near as important as the job of making sure that our children are prepared for their future.Report

            • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Jaybird says:

              I agree with the unpopularity of it.

              I’m always curious why the politics of envy works so well here, but not when it comes to populist attempts at traditional “class warfare.”

              I’m sure it has something to do with how hard it is to prove whether a teacher is doing a “good” job to begin with. Then again, the majority of people like “their teachers,” it’s all those other slimey ones in other people’s school districts that are living a bit to lazy and large.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                I’m always curious why the politics of envy works so well here, but not when it comes to populist attempts at traditional “class warfare.”

                I think that timing (recession, workforce participation, unemployment) has a great deal to do with it. Also, there are dynamics that exist when it comes to unions that have horrible optics that compound the problem.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                We look at public employees differently because of the sense they “work for us.”Report

              • Avatar James K in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                People compare themselves to similar people, not radially different ones. The incomes of the super wealthy don’t register because they are too distant, but the income of a teacher is close enough for you to benchmark.

                Plus, what Will said.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Jaybird says:

      Would it be worth comparing the average income in Chicago to the average teacher?

      Per capita income in Chicago is just over $24K/year. It’s got a 19.6% poverty rate. Source here.

      I can’t find numbers for per capita income by education level, but I doubt a college degree makes a difference of 3x for the average.

      We can argue about how much they ought to make, sure. We can argue that if you don’t offer competitive wages on a national comparison, you won’t retain good teachers. These things are true: if you don’t pay teachers with experience and degrees “close enough” to their national wage level, they go somewhere else. What’s “close enough”? I dunno.

      I know that you couldn’t get *me* to work in Chicago for $88k/year. But I have a different target industry.

      Regardless… if you’re already making 3x the average salary of your metropolitan area, I expect you’re not going to get much in the way of local public support. This is the sort of fight unions can only lose.Report

      • Do you think they’d have the same reaction if the the title “teacher” were replaced with “Police office?”

        Of course, I don’t know about Chicago’s history with the police, so perhaps there’s a lot of bad blood there.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

        I suspect you will see similar problems with the police and fire departments. Maybe not with so much towering resentment, but it’s a lot easier to come to a favorable measure of fire department efficacy: did my house burn down last year? No, okay.

        Downward pressure on manufacturing wages is pretty high. Yay globalism!Report

        • Avatar Roger in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:

          I would assume salaries are based upon supply and demand, and that they should be.. Is this an unreasonable assumption?Report

          • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Roger says:

            What is being supplied and demanded in this instance?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

              Demand is some composite of daycare and education for children.

              We have no way to measure what’s being supplied.Report

            • Avatar Roger in reply to Ethan Gach says:

              Supply and demand as it relates to wages. A job is offered, and accepted by candidates that meet the requirements of the employer. If numbers or quality of candidates applying is inadequate, you raise the wage, if you can get them to work for less you lower wages.

              You do not set wages by arguing over what a job is worth. This is economically idiotic on multiple levels — many pointed out recently by the recent Hayek threads.

              The trouble with Chicago schools is we have a bureaucratic monopoly backed by government force hiring members of a coercive union which prohibits hiring of non union members. We have no free market in wages, suppliers, product, etc. The consumer in Chicago is not sovereign. The monopolists are sovereign. The system is FUBAR — it is incapable of rationally providing outcomes that meet consumer needs. It is, in brief, exactly what progressive “solutions” lead to. A system which serves itself and becomes a parasite on humanity.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger says:

                A free market will not solve your problem if the nash equilibrium is “we work here for 2 years and then move to (foo) where they will pay us 2x this wage”, and “not constantly training the rest of the nation’s teacher workforce” isn’t your goal.

                Granted, all of the things you mention are very possibly contributing problems, Mr. Harris below points out some others.

                But expert labor isn’t fungible the way basic labor is. I can dig ditches for a living (I would be bad at it, because I would hate it, but I can do it). But I spend a good portion of my day correcting for the fact that in my labor sector, many of the people who do a lot of the work are bad at their jobs. From a market perspective, their labor wage is much closer to free than educators, as there is no professional criteria to be an IT guy.

                Just saying, “Screw it, let anybody teach, fill the open slots with the lowest bidder” is not going to lead to domain-wide expertise. You’ll find some gems, I’m sure, but your average teacher is going to be worse than what you have now.

                Basic labor != Skilled labor != Expert labor != Professional labor.

                Not to mention that certain jobs are filled as vocations as much as they are jobs (in some cases, like teaching, probably more).

                I think this game is a lot more complicated than you’re implying, here.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Patrick Cahalan says:


                Actually a free market is a problem solving, albeit never perfect, system. Of course skilled labor does not lend itself to paying the lowest bidder. It is a matter of the point where the demand of consumers, employers and teachers merge. I do not believe that a free market solution would lead to anything even similar to the current structure, pay, quality or incentives seen in Chicago schools. The literature I have seen supports that free market schools are vastly superior to government monopoly.

                I am not implying anything simplistic about a free market problem solving system. It is as complex as anything in the universe. However, the current system is going to keep playing the current broken tune forever. It will only get worse.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger says:

                I’ll try to check that out tomorrow.

                If history is any judge, I’ll probably have problems with correction for sample bias.

                I should probably write a post about the Pasadena school system vs. the Pasadena private school market.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Roger says:

            Local presence is something of a problem.

            If you’re in textiles or basic manufacturing, and to a lesser extent agriculture, you’re competing with the global labor market. Minus those of you that have tariff “protection” of some sort or another. We don’t have much in the way of import barriers for this sort of labor. You need local hands to pick fruit, because that’s where you grow it, but your apples are just like New Zealand apples and if apples cost enough less to grow there than here, that’s where your competitive pressure comes from.

            If you’re in IT, half of you are competing with the global labor market, and the other half aren’t. This creates some really freakin’ odd salary patterns, you betchoo. This industry is nuts.

            If you’re looking to hire someone who has 4-6 years of professional training in a job that can’t be outsourced (nursing, police, fire, linesman for the phone company, a slew of other jobs)… you can expect that it’s going to be somewhat more difficult for you to offer lower wages. We have import controls on labor (yay closed borders!), for one, and there are also regional factors that make a big difference: if the national wage for a trained firefighter with specialty EMT training is $60K, and your local average wage for trained firefighters is $45K, you better goddamn hope that your local intangibles are worth $15K or you have a serious problem in retention.

            And now you’re trying to pay someone $60K worth of salary and intangibles when the local labor market, which mostly does manufacturing, has an average salary of $24K? And these people vote for the people that sign these contracts? No wonder public sector organized labor has problems.

            There aren’t many barriers to capital liquidity, but there are lots of barriers (both legal and social) against labor liquidity. People can’t retrain on a dime. Trained people will pack up and leave if you can’t offer nationally competitive wages. Some jobs are those with high communitarian utility but low community alignment (not everybody is willing to run into a burning building).

            Open the borders and you’ll get something much closer to a market equilibrium for labor prices across all private sectors. Still not there, due to training requirements, but closer.Report

  4. Avatar jc says:

    it’s not 47K a year. as stated above, 74k is the average salary. the average salary for ALL workers in chicago is 47k a year. keep in mind, teachers only work 9 months a year.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to jc says:

      The average worker in Chicago is not a professional. They probably don’t have a college degree either. Can you show me what you’re actually comparing against?Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Even looking only at college graduates, $74k per year, with three months’ vacation, is pretty good. And remember that teachers tend to be drawn disproportionately from the lower ranks of their classes. The ETS publishes a breakdown of GRE scores by intended field of study, and education is nearly rock bottom.Report

        • GRE scores don’t matter here, unless you are eschewing performance based pay. Are you?

          Also, three months vacation is deceptive, it’s actually about 11 weeks off, which when you take into account work beyond 40 hours a week, of which there of course is, the difference becomes minimal.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            I think the better argument here is that the average is being pulled up by teachers that don’t take summers off. And teachers that take on additional duties (sports coaching, after-hours such). It’s a harder slog that the 11 weeks don’t matter because they work beyond 40 hours a week.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            GRE scores don’t matter here, unless you are eschewing performance based pay. Are you?

            My point isn’t that GRE scores should be a factor in compensation. My point is that comparisons between the salaries of teachers and the salaries of people in other fields with the same number of years of education are not necessarily relevant, because for many teachers those other fields simply aren’t options due to lack of domain-specific knowledge, and may in fact never have been options due to academic weakness.

            The bottom line, really, is that if the CPS is able to fill its classrooms with qualified teachers, then it’s paying enough, and possibly too much. The question they should be asking is not, “Are we paying the teachers as much as they deserve?” but rather “Are we paying enough to hire and retain the teachers we need?”Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              To elaborate a bit more on the problems with these comparisons, any time you find that people working in one field have a salary that’s lower than ostensibly equivalently qualified people in another field, you have to ask, “If they could be making more money in another field, then why are they still in this one?”

              One possible answer is that they could not, in fact, be making more money in another field because, for reasons not captured in your human capital models, they don’t actually have qualifications equivalent to the people in the other field.

              Another possible answer is that they’re willing to accept lower pay because they prefer their field. This isn’t a reason to increase their pay; people in the private sector have to deal with trade-offs between intangibles and salary all the time. If a job with superior intangibles pays the same as a job with identical qualifications and inferior intangibles, you’ll have too many applicants for the first job and not enough for the second.

              These comparisons typically use extremely rough estimates of human capital with major known flaws, and fail to account for intangibles. This makes them essentially worthless.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to jc says:

      It’s worth noting that the average salary is likely being pulled up by workers who are working more than 9 months a year, or are taking on additional responsibilities.Report

      • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Will Truman says:

        Like grading homework, papers, and tests? Help class before school? Help class afterwards?Report

        • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          I was referring to those that take care of after-hour programs, teach summer classes, lead extra-curricular activities, and so on.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Ethan Gach says:

          Helpful Guide to “How to understand Salaries as Reported in the News”

          “Average Salary”: We took the base pay of a newbie teacher, added it to the pay of a maxed-out seniority teacher with a doctorate, and divided by two. If we’re feeling accurate.

          Varient 1: We did that, but the senior teacher’s salary is defined as “up to X salary” below.

          Varient 2: We did that, but we also used prinicples and administrative staff, up to and including the superintendent.

          “Up to Salary X”: Salary X is defined as “max seniority teacher with a doctorate” who also earns every possible bonus or stipend, which in reality means: Coaches the football team, drives a bus, teaches summer school, handles Student Council, and chairs a department. Probably also does theater, special olympics, and runs the Prom.

          What would be useful is “median salary” of the teaching staff (to avoid administrators, principles, and superintendents), but that’s harder to get. Simple requests can get you the salary bands and basic bonus/stipend amounts, or at least the “least” and “most” payouts the previous fiscal year without giving out private information.Report

    • Avatar James B Franks in reply to jc says:

      it’s also not 47K a year unless you include the upper end.

      @CoreyRobin @TerryMoran Also: According to BLS, the average middle & elementary school teacher in Chicago metro area makes $55,000-60,000…Report

      • Avatar Jack in reply to James B Franks says:

        The author from Ethan’s original link has explained the differing numbers:

        The BLS numbers you are siting include all of the teachers from areas around Chicoago that are not part of this labor dispute:
        “The $56,720 number is the median salary for teachers in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics dubs the “Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL Metropolitan Division.” This includes not only Cook County, which includes all of the Chicago (and thus all of the Chicago Public School district), but also suburbs and other outlying towns like Burbank, Chicago Heights and Park Ridge, as well as six other counties: DeKalb, DuPage, Grundy, Kane, Kendall, McHenry and Will.”Report

        • Avatar Mr. Harris in reply to Jack says:

          The more interesting question, I think, is what is the average age of teachers making this 74k figure? Missing from these comments is the question of how many years these teachers have as professionals in their field and how does does teachers making this level of salary/benefits compare to other professionals with commensurate levels of education and experience. I think in some of the studies I’ve seen teacher’s come out slightly below national averages with teachers in urban and poorer areas doing much worse and teachers in wealthier suburbs doing better.Report

  5. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    I should clarify my current point of view (which will likely evolve as this plays out and I’m able to engage with everyone on this issue), which is that there are unfortunately two different issues here, as I think Roger notes.

    The one is being protected from management with regard to educational agenda setting as well as liabilty. Working with children involves a host of issues most professionals don’t deal with like, for instance, being around kids all day. Most administrations seem to have little regard for their educational and support staff, and would have little stake in defending an employee against various charges leveled at them by parents or students, where as the Union will. There also becomes issues related to staffing, and SOPs, and so on. I’m not sure what besides a union can supply the pressure needed to balance commands from up hight.

    The compensation issue is another. Unfortunately that becomes the face of it.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      The compensation issue is another. Unfortunately that becomes the face of it.

      Not even Amy Goodman was able to find a decent spokesperson on Democracy Now! last night.


      The talk was about benefits, measurements, and job security.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Ethan Gach says:

      And to make the first set of issues a little clearer: imagine working in retail or food service and having to risk getting fired every time someone complained to management about you?

      Except that the people complaining don’t just pay taxes, they can vote.

      Perhaps this would be like waiting on or providing customer service to the company you work for’s shareholders? Then again I don’t like using capitalist language where it doesn’t necessarily fit.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        For the record, customer complaints were sufficient evidence to get fired at every retail or food service job I’ve worked.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        And to make the first set of issues a little clearer: imagine working in retail or food service and having to risk getting fired every time someone complained to management about you?

        That’s how retail and food services generally work…Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Will Truman says:

          From working at Giant Supermarkets to Blockbuster to Subway to waiting tables at a retirement community and helping customers at a bookstore, I’ve never had a manager punish me in order to take the side of a customer.

          Yes you should get fired if you don’t do your job right. Not when you do your job well but the customer is unrealistic expectations or is looking to grind an ax on somebody.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            Sure, there are the crazy customers who complain about the rats in the ceiling who watch them as they look for the Doctor Laura books and the CREEPY CREEPY SHELVERS who work for the FBI and EVERYBODY KNOWS IT!!!! and the complaints from these customers are put into the circular file.

            I’m not talking about them.Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

              I’d file most neoliberal and conservative education reform activists as the equivalent of the crazy person, or if not that, the person blaming the cashier for the fact there’s no apples in the produce aisle.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                What percentage of education reform activists are neoliberal or conservative?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Of the ones who think the answer to the problems with urban and other schools with lots of poor students (which is basically the entire problem w/ the modern American school system) is destroy the unions and give money to charter schools, about one hundred percent.

                There are people who realize that perhaps we shouldn’t depend on useless standardized tests and bullshit business school metrics to evaluate teachers, but they’re not “Very Serious People.”Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            It’s rare that I’ve seen it happen, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it out of the employer’s discretion.Report

          • I managed an Earl Scheib’s and Rule #1 was that if anyone sued for any reason, I was fired. Make ’em happy, no matter how unreasonable.

            I found the policy preternaturally wise, but I think mebbe our culture has changed. Business chase every penny, but so do consumers: loyalty means nothing or even good service if there’s a penny to be saved.

            I dunno how this fits into the teacher thing, but I’ll grab something on the BBC4 special on Sweden:

            FIDGEN: I bet David Cameron’s letter to Santa reads like that:
            everyone back to work, please, and more choice in the welfare sector. But so far
            Cameron’s been disappointed: the British public have been slow to love free
            schools and have dug their heels in over the health reforms. But the Swedes
            facing similar change rolled up their sleeves and got on with it. And this is what
            they got: tax funded public services run by private companies for profit. If I fall
            off my bike while cycling around Stockholm, I could be picked up by a private
            ambulance and brought here to St. Goran’s, an A&E hospital run by Capio,
            which won the contract in competition against the state sector.
            WALLGREN: My name is Britta Wallgren. I’m the CEO of Capio St. Goran’s
            Hospital in Stockholm. We are part of the whole transformation in the system. The
            important thing is not if it’s privately owned or publicly owned. It’s that you provide
            healthcare of high quality.

            FIDGEN: Fraser Nelson again.
            NELSON: This was the way the Labour Government wanted to go with
            their foundation hospitals they wanted to have basically in the state sector but
            privately managed, and then the Tories adopted this and wanted to push it through.
            Neither have made progress. This socialistic Sweden doesn’t seem to think that’s a
            problem. And I imagine quite a lot of our politicians, Labour and Tory, would quite
            like to move to a system that would significantly reduce healthcare costs, but it’s
            about changing the culture.
            FIDGEN: Fraser Nelson. What is different about Swedish culture that
            means Swedes not only trust the state with a lot of their hard earned money, but
            don’t quibble when it’s spent on sub-contracting to the private sector. Centre
            Right thinker Sofia Nerbrand says the Swedish just don’t see any reason to
            suspect that letting the market into public services would undermine the scope of
            the generous welfare state.


            TVD: The thing is, there’s less difference between public and private unions there because public services are often contracted out to private, for-profit business. The question their unions don’t need to ask, but ours do, is whether public school union teachers could even cut it in a for-profit school that is accountable for its results.Report

  6. Avatar Kazzy says:

    From a friend: http://gawker.com/5942212/chicagos-striking-teachers-take-protest-too-far

    Subject line? “you may be the only person i know who will laugh harder than i did…”

    Not sure what this says about me….Report

  7. Avatar Mr. Harris says:

    Ethan, I applaud your efforts to try and fight the good fight on this one, but as many of the comments here illustrate there is clearly a strong disconnect between two competing narratives that appear to be at the heart of the current Ed. Reform discussion.

    Full disclosure, I work in the New York public school system as a 7-12 social studies teacher.

    On the one hand, there is this issue of compensation that really irks regular working folks, newslaper columnists, and cash-strapped mayors. As this narrative goes, teachers make enough money and accept that they’ve been riding a public sector, union-backed gravy train but the good times are over and everyone needs to just accept that – for the sake of the children.

    On the other hand teachers supposedly make a huge difference in the lives of children and should therefore make more money if high stakes tests demonstrate that they are “moving the needle” with regard to their students results on these tests. Teachers are so important that we can’t accept lousy ones in the classroom and at the same time we should exalt the good ones. In this narrative unions are unnecessary because, like other well compensated professionals, teachers will be in charge of their own destinies in a free and open educational marketplace populated by charter schools, voucher accepting private schools, and of course, the local neighborhood public school.

    Now, the reform movement seems to think that both of these narratives can somehow coexist in the new educational paradigm it envisions for the country. Obama and New Democrates would like nothing more than to have their cake and eat it too with respect to unions support. They argue that their vision is better for union-based teachers than the Republican alternative.

    The huge, gaping problem with these narratives, however, is that neither will actually lead to lasting gains in educational outcomes intended to close the dreaded achievement gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged in our society for these reasons:

    1. In survey after survey teachers repeatedly state that money is not tops on their list for why they took up the profession. Clearly teacher’s aren’t exactly taking on the chin financial in the Chicago deal, but what they would be giving up in the notion that they are professionals who will be evaluated by fair and just measures. Value added measures are a blight on education, yet why do so many reformers and Ed. leaders insist on tying them to teacher evaluation? The bottom line is respect. When you take it away from a profession that already enjoys so little of, something’s got to give.

    2. Everybody agrees that teaching should attract the best candidates, but to achieve this you need to create a system that assumes teachers deserve a modicum of independence to the do the job they’re supposedly hired to do. If you want to create safeguards to weed out the lesser talented teachers, fine, just don’t tie it to poorly conceived value added measures. This horrible blight cooked up by economists continues to endure throughout the educational landscape like a lingering case of syphilis. The assumption that smart, capable people will want to join a profession that evaluates them in such an erroneous way would be absurdly comical if it wasn’t so depressingly real.

    3. Benefits aren’t a zero-sum game. If the economy wasn’t so crappy most people wouldn’t feel resentful of the benefits teachers receive and probably would be more supportive of them and their unions. Somehow the teachers have become the enemies of tax payers everywhere because they enjoy such great health and retirement benefits. This line has been debunked here:
    With respect to the larger Chicago question, teachers wages have been shrinking with respect to comparable private sector workers over the last few decades. I won’t pretend that this issue isn’t a complicated one, but clearly some of this wage resentment is wrapped up in the fact that American’s wages overall have stagnated over the last 30 years, their private sector pensions have been replaced by more volatile 401K accounts, and job security is less. People with a bone to pick with teachers and their unions have done a good job harnessing worker frustrations and channeling it appropriately.

    4. The privatization of public education allows political leaders and private enterprise the opportunity to profit mightily from a 6oo billion dollar-a-year bounty. Mayors on up gain more top-down authority as unions are weakened by decreasing membership. In the old days in New York City the schools department was a cess pool of political patronage and graft. It was out of this environment that teacher tenure was born. The question of who controls education in this country has always been a local one, until now. Do Americans really want governors, mayors, and their rich friends deciding how their children are educated or would they like to keep some if the control for themselves? Will they realize what they’ve given up after its too late to turn back?

    At the end of the day, everyone agrees that children deserve the best education our nation can provide for them. But, as always, issues of power and control are what actually dominate the discussion. Education is a Bysantine milieu with no easy answers to it’s most vexing questions. It’s often said that political careers begin on the local school board but so does political involvement by parents, their representatives, teachers, and their representatives. But when
    powerful, self interested parties hijack the reform process to push a corporatist agenda, everyone needs to be especially leary of their recommendations. All teachers really want is respect and a decent seat at the table but if recent history serves as a model, these professionals are being treated more like the hired help than respected partners and this is no way to attract the best and the brightest.Report

    • Avatar James K in reply to Mr. Harris says:

      What precisely is your problem with value added measures?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to James K says:

        As I see it, the problem comes with how value is being measured. Teacher evaluation in most public districts is woeful. It has improved, slightly, but typically takes the form of give kids a test 0n day 1, teach them for 170 days, give them a test on day 180. If the second test is better than the first, good. If not, bad. That seems logical if one completely ignores the human element of teaching. Teaching is not input-output. Too many variables factor into the success of any given student; multiply this by 15-20-25 students and there is a limit to what can be directly attributed to the teacher. Than factor in all that cannot be tested or can be but isn’t by the tests we have in place. Etc, etc.

        I wouldn’t object to a performance-based compensation IF it was actually designed in such a way to properly identify and reward talented teachers. The current system isn’t.

        Additionally, there are schools on the verge of being shut down because they are declining. Not only is this basic logic poor (A struggling school? Don’t improve it… just close it!), but schools can be considered to be declining if they go from a 96% pass rate to a 95% pass rate. Srsly?Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Kazzy says:

          there are good reasons for closing a school. there are. “this was a bad idea from the getgo…” yeah… my school district is closing one of those. it’s unclear whether students can graduate from there (due to poorly specified requirements). that’s just one problem.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Kazzy says:

          Too many variables factor into the success of any given student; multiply this by 15-20-25 students and there is a limit to what can be directly attributed to the teacher.

          I think that’s backwards. Adding more data points doesn’t amplify measurement errors, it dampens them.

          If you’re testing just one student, that student could, for any number of reasons, test anomalously high in Autumn and anomalously low in Spring, making the teacher look really bad for no reason. But with 25 students, it’s very unlikely that the measurement error for every student is going to align, so the measurement error for the class as a whole is going to be smaller than the measurement error for any given student.Report

      • Avatar Mr. Harris in reply to James K says:

        There is a really good point-by-point take down of value added methods by the mathematician John Ewing here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/nyc-releases-teachers-value-added-scores–unfortunately/2012/02/24/gIQAtbVXYR_blog.html

        Essentially, the numbers you get from year-to-year measuring test-based performance are far too unstable to be a rational measure of a teacher’s effectiveness. Yet none of the evidence demonstrating this stopped news organizati0ns in Los Angeles and New York from publishing teacher’s scores and causing irreparable harm to their reputations and careers.

        So I have to ask again, why are the decision-makers so gung ho to use these flawed measures as a basis for evaluating teachers? Is it possible that the mathematics involved is too complicated for them to grasp? Are they so blinded by a desire to get rid of teachers, any teachers, whether they are good or bad that they’ll hitch their wagons to a flawed analysis?

        Without Chicago’s brave teacher’s union standing up against the ram rod Mayor Rom Emanuel, who’s left on the other side of the reform debate to be an effective voice for sanity and reason?Report

        • Avatar James K in reply to Mr. Harris says:

          Ah, I see we’re tlaking aobut primitive value added measures. My familiarity with them come primarily from the work of Raj Chetty who has done some very good work with demographics-controlled value-added averaged over multiple years. I think that would address most of your concerns.Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mr. Harris says:

          The correct link is here. Your link is to a really awful piece by Valerie Strauss, an education writer who doesn’t actually understand what a value added measure is.Report

          • Avatar Mr. Harris in reply to Brandon Berg says:

            Thanks for the clarification – still trying to figure out how to insert links on this site. From your above comment it seems as though you think VAMs can be accurate with a larger class to measure. Just wondering what your response to Mr. Ewing’s criticism is. In the NYTimes today civil rights columnist Nicholas Kristof dipped his toes into the reform debate by citing a widly criticized paper using VAMs. (James K, that may be the work you’re citing above). The initial reviews of the report, “THE LONG-TERM IMPACTS OF TEACHERS” has not been kind. As someone who feels comfortable discussing complicated formulas, perhaps you could explain how a measure the may create a reliable index to evaluate one teacher but be completely misrepresentative of another teacher is a useful tool for determining job status, raises, etc.?Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Mr. Harris says:

              If Ewing’s claims about the year-to-year variance in value-added measurements is correct, then they’re not ready for prime time. But it’s definitely worth looking into why this is the case. That level of year-to-year turnover in the stack ranking is surprising. Either there’s something wrong with the models, there aren’t enough data points, or maybe teacher quality doesn’t actually matter all that much, at least within the range represented among the ranks of CPS teachers.Report

            • Avatar James K in reply to Mr. Harris says:

              Ewing seems to be engaging in the Nirvana Fallacy here. Yeah, the data is noisy – welcome to the social sciences. Most of the problems (barring the ones like heteroskedasticity caused by variable class sizes, that are easily corrected for) he points to are are going to apply to any system of performance management, including subjective verbal measures and the seniority and qualifications based approach currently used. It’s not enough to pooh-pooh a given measure because it’s imperfect, without offering a superior alternative I can’t really take his point seriously. Should a VAM be used as the only criterion? No, definitely not. But from what I’ve seen they’re good enough to be included.

              Where I do take his point is where journalists have gotten their hands on raw Value-Added data an misinterpreted it because they have no idea what they’re doing. But the best way to deal with that is to create a proper performance measure and publish that. Put out a good measure and journalists will be too lazy to construct a bad one. I can also get behind releasing data only at the school level, after all my performance reviews aren’t published, personal information is exempt from the OIA.Report

      • Avatar Morat20 in reply to James K says:

        They don’t work. Seriously — you might as well use a random number generator to assign good/average/bad teachers.

        Value added is an attempt to address the obvious flaws in merit pay (in teaching, it rewards those who get the bright students and punishes those who have a gift for dealing with the troublemakers. Because the best teacher keeping kids in school and passing that would otherwise drop out looks like crap next to the one that taught AP math while drunk, on the basis of results).

        It doesn’t work. Kids aren’t the same, year to year. (Seriously, in addition to home life their little brains change and stuff). Meta-studies of value-added measurements have shown that either teachers are uniformly bipolar (zooming between genius, average, and crap on a random basis each year) or the actual “value added” measurements are crap.

        Because, you know, a teacher will go from average to crap to Genius to Genius to crap to crap to average to Genius year by year.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Mr. Harris says:

      This is a good comment.

      I’m reminded of an old adage regarding paying really good programmers: “pay them enough that they don’t worry about money and give them lots of autonomy.” Teaching is similar, I’m certain.Report

    • Avatar E.C. Gach in reply to Mr. Harris says:

      Thanks for reading Harris.

      This is a great comment to, and gets at just about everything I think about the situation (I figured I’d stay away from an opening post on the subject that was too polarizing).

      Perhaps you could pitch a guest post to the powers that be on the subject?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mr. Harris says:

      I have lots of agreement with Mr. Harris, and I certainly agree with his and Kazzy’s critique of performance measures. Last spring term I failed 7 students in my American Government class–if you had tested them on day one and then on the last day, you’d see no improvement at all. But each of those students failed so many other courses they ended up on academic probation or suspension. And after two weeks of classes this term, I can confidently predict that one of my American Government classes will show great improvement in knowledge over the course of the term. Was I lousy then, but will be great now? That’s both too insulting and too complimentary of me.

      But I will argue this point:
      teachers supposedly make a huge difference in the lives of children and should therefore make more money if high stakes tests demonstrate that they are “moving the needle” with regard to their students results on these tests.
      That’s not really correct. Teachers should make more money if, and only if, not just everyone can move the needle. It’s not the outcome that should determine how much they make, but how much specialized ability it takes to achieve it. Collecting garbage is probably even more high stakes than educating our children, but there’s no reason it should pay particularly well because society can accomplish the goal at fairly low cost and shouldn’t waste its resources by overpaying for it.

      But that’s not an argument that just anybody in fact can move the needle on children’s education. Teaching is actually a rather specialized skill, and if we understood it right we’d see–I predict–that it’s worth rewarding well because good teachers aren’t easy to replace. We may have an endless stream of people graduating from college with Education degrees, but they’ve primarily learned subject matter, not teaching skills. They’re not all equally capable, and not all of them will ever–or even have the ability to–become truly capable of quality teaching.Report

      • Avatar Mr. Harris in reply to James Hanley says:

        This gets at the problem with reformers who believe you can measure teacher effectiveness, get rid of the bad apples, and suddenly hire better teachers to replace them. In practice this is a really hard thing to do because when you start out with a fresh class of teachers you already have a nearly 50% failure rate in your investment. This the roughly the amount of new teachers who will leave the profession within five years coupled with the amount who will remain ineffective teachers in the system beyond that. In truth, replacing the “bad” teachers is going to be a real challenge, especially if the economy improves and teacher’s salaries/benefits don’t.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mr. Harris says:

          Agreed. Especially at the K-12 level. Not that there aren’t plenty of bad college teachers out there, but I honestly think our job is comparatively easy compared to yours. I don’t think I’d attempt to replace you at double my salary.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to James Hanley says:

            I agree AND disagree at the same time!

            In brief, I agree that the system that the teachers work under is a bureaucratic monopoly of the worst sort. Teachers unionize partially to protect themselves from the machinery of the screwed up system. I agree that the teachers should not trust the bureaucracy to treat them well or for the incentive systems to be effective. Nor do I think the school monopoly is capable of hiring adequately capable new teachers.

            The entire system is rotten.

            We need free markets in education. We need consumer choice, teacher freedom and competition between bureaucracies.

            The only things that keep bureaucracies in check are competition and consumer choice.Report

  8. Avatar James K says:

    What these characteristics are still remains a mystery. Don’t worry though, because “With reliability between .30 and .50, VAM is directly in line with the best measures in education.” .30-.50? Is that the correlation value? Please tell me it’s something else.

    It’s probably the r-squared value, which would translate into a correlation of 0.55 to 0.7. Which is a solid correlation by social science standards.Report

  9. Avatar damon says:

    I’m in the private sector and 3% is average in my industry. I’ve not seen anything upwards of 3.5% in a decade, and I used to regularly get 1.5%-for the same level of performance.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to damon says:

      I think they ALSO took a 20% increase in their work day.

      If they want to increase my work day 20% and then my compensation, if you count it in a way to make it look as big as possible, “19%” I just took a small pay cut.

      Implemented over 4 years, I took a large pay cut that will gradually — over four years — bring me up to almost what I was making before. Except for the bite 4 years of inflation took out of it.

      And the thing is — the teachers agreed to it. Which is funny how everyone talking about how bad the teachers are only talks about the money, which is the one thing they’re not striking over!Report

      • Avatar damon in reply to Morat20 says:

        Well, there you go. They agreed to it. Shall we compare health benefits, pensions, and other non-salary compensation? I’m sure I’m not getting as good a deal as they are. Do they get pensions? I don’t.Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to damon says:

          Then perhaps you should go apply to be a teacher Damon.Report

        • Avatar Kimmi in reply to damon says:

          What do you do? Most people get better deals than teachers in Chi-town — if only a deal on “less stress”Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to damon says:

          Well, here’s how it is in Texas:

          Teachers get pensions, but not SS. They pay somewhere between 11 and 15% of their pay into the pension fund. (Managed by the state of Texas) rather than SS. (Which sorta screws them, because being forcibly opted out of the SS system means they cannot claim ANY sort of SS benefits, even if they’ve paid into SS in the past, or things like survivor benefits or whatnot. They’re literally locked out of the system entirely).

          So by “pension” what teachers — at least in Texas — get is “Social Security” under a different name, and they actually pay MORE into it (personally as a percentage) than everyone else pays into FICA. The actual benefits at the back end are, IIRC, about as good as SS. Possibly a bit less.

          For health care: Suffice it to say, in what amounts to a good, well paying district in Texas that has a sizeable queue of teachers wanting to move into the district to work there — the health benefits are so bad in terms of cost that I know absolutely no one who uses it if they can possibly get on their spouses’ insurance instead. (As my wife does with mine).

          In fact, to give you an idea of how bad it is: My wife was married during college. Becoming pregnant was something of a wakeup call about the marriage, so they were divorced shortly after the child was born. He never bothered to exercise his visitation rights, never paid a dime in child support, vanished basically. When I met her, her child was three.

          She was working as an administrative assistant for a local company (about 200 employees, all told) because working there she had more money and better benefits than if she’d used her degree and taught, almost entirely because of how expensive and crappy the health insurance was through the local schools.

          So back to the point: I can’t speak to Chicago, just Texas which has a teacher’s union so weak that practically it’s only point in existing is to run a credit union and send out a newsletter. (There are no strikes, there is no collective bargaining, there is no tenure, no teacher’s reps. I’m not even sure why it even exists. It’s not like the union dues are making anyone rich. Pretty sure it’s just for the credit union)

          My wife, working in an excellent, well paying (by Texas standards considerably above the average in both pay, benefits, and generally ‘I want to work there!” desireability) — made more, net, and had better benefits as a secretary. She makes half what I make, despite both of us having identical educations (Master’s degree) and I’m on the low-end in pay for my job, not the high. (Job security and personal interest in the field took precedence over pay for me). Her “pension” is basically “More expensive social security” that has, basically, no upside.

          Now, I’d imagine the teachers in Chicago probably have a slightly better deal. On the other hand, they have to teach in Chicago which I suspect is more expensive to live in. And in the end, they’re STILL not striking over their effective pay cut, but for the dumb-ass way the city wants to rate them.

          Which was ably covered above. (IE: Stupidly).Report

        • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to damon says:

          So, why do you think the solution is to drag them down instead of organizing to lift yourself up?Report

        • Avatar Mr. Harris in reply to damon says:

          Here’s some handy new data on the ratio of teacher salaries to the earnings of other workers who went to college from today’s NY Times.


          Teachers typically earn less than their peers with the same level of education in most countries in the developed world, but here in the U.S. they earn even less AND work more hours.Report

          • Avatar Roger in reply to Mr. Harris says:

            This implies it is a highly desired job, and thus, all else equal should pay less. “Organizing to lift ourselves up” is offensive to me. I do not get how some of you have such an oppositional view of success.Report

            • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Roger says:

              If not for that “oppositional” view, we wouldn’t have the middle class.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

                That is absurd. I simply cannot fathom how you believe prosperity comes about via antagonistic struggle rather than cooperative problem solving. We operate under totally different paradigms. In mine, the middle class is prosperous because of productivity, specialization, cooperation and technology. In yours, they “exploited it” out of someone else.

                Do other progressives agree with Jesse?Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Roger says:

                Does this mean, I wonder, that you are opposed to the current political system in America? Madisonian factions and all that? I am, but just curious.

                Also, with regard to unions, they were the push back against successful “barrons” in the gilded age that gave both capitalists and laborers alike propserity in the post war years. No?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                Also, with regard to unions, they were the push back against successful “barrons” in the gilded age that gave both capitalists and laborers alike propserity in the post war years. No?

                First question: How did unions create prosperity for capitalists?

                Second question: Have you considered the effect of labor supply and demand on the cost (wages & bennies) of labor?Report

              • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

                I perhaps mispoke. I was trying to get at the mutual antagonism and parity between the two.

                So I’m not trying to say that laborers created the prosperity (although strictly speaking they did, on the whole, do this since work gets done or it doesn’t by laborers–exects included), but rather the more equitable distribution of bargaining power between labor and capital lead to outcomes that were conducive to a middle consumption class that could fuel the economy by providing a healthy aggregate demand to meet the post war level of production.

                All speculative, I’m not well read on post war economics or labor movements, but I’m more hypothesizing that that in part helped, along with strong trade (the mix here of what in particular contributed how much I’d very much be interested to know), lead to what people associate with the post war boom.

                On your question, I’m curious what you’re getting at, other than to remind me that wages are the result of the demand for/supply of labor in the market?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Ethan Gach says:

                In general I believe that political action is antagonistic and zero sum, which is why I believe it should be restricted in scope.

                Unions basically used coercion to demand greater wages by excluding lower skilled laborers and minorities. With the coercive support of government, they then forced consumers to pay higher prices, reduced profits and reinvestments in their industries, thus choking off future hiring.

                Let me be clear, unions only work with coercion — aka exploitation. They require keeping lower skilled or higher need workers from accepting their job for less money. They distort economic growth and lower prosperity for all those getting exploited. I am anti exploitation.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                This Progressive agrees with him. Teacher pay is the direct product of property taxes. Where property taxes are low, teachers don’t get paid well. Chicago has a “combat pay” system to bring in teachers to work with low-achieving students. That’s the only way Chicago can get teachers to apply. That’s why the teachers are complaining about standardised achievement tests: it works against the only reason they’re in the CPS system at all.

                The middle class is dead for all intents and purposes. The only reason a middle class exists at all is because there’s enough demand to justify paying people middle class wages. As the middle class jobs have been sent elsewhere, the middle class has hollowed out.

                To have a middle class, you need some sort of economic disruption which creates a demand for skilled labour of some sort. In the Progressive Era, that force was the rise of the car and the truck and to a lesser degree, aircraft.

                Cooperative problem solving, my ass. There’s nothing cooperative about outsourcing a job. Quit living in this dream world of cooperation and technology, it’s a myth. If it can be done by a machine, it will. If it can be done in China, it will. If it can be done without paying people in accordance with the value they add to a proposition, it will.

                Prosperity for the many can only arise where a framework for wage negotiation exists. That framework no longer exists in the USA. You know it doesn’t, now that the Wicked Old Unions are in full retreat. The American worker is still the best value for money in the world and his wages haven’t reflected that fact since about 1970. Teachers enter the profession with the best of intentions. These days, they don’t last much more than five years. They burn out and leave. You simply aren’t serious about this Cooperative Problem Solving business: we now face a situation where the nation’s children are emerging from high school largely unequipped for college or for the workaday world. If we put half as much priority on education as we do into national defence — without a decent educational system our troops can’t even read the effing manuals for the multi-million dollar weapons systems they’re using — we’d have something resembling a rational educational policy, where teachers would be honoured and respected members of their communities. This is not presently true and while it is not, the middle class jobs will continue to disappear for lack of educated people to fill what few such jobs remain.Report

              • Avatar Mr. Harris in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Hell yeah! The obvious example of this being the appalling lack of engineers and computer scientists needed to fill the current demand. But what do nearly 1/3 of undergraduates study today? Visual Arts.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to BlaiseP says:


                I can’t address your half dozen branches on the basic argument.

                Let me just answer that unions were totally irrelevant in rising standards of living. These came about via increasing productivity and the demand for labor as well as the lower cost of supplying the various needs of humanity. These came about via cooperative problem solving. Entrepreneurs, investors, managers, and workers cooperated and used ingenuity to create more and better consumer goods for less. Multiply a billion times….

                Yes jobs are going to China, that is us forming cooperative arrangements with them. Their standardsofliving are increasing at thefatestoace inthehistory of the frickin universe. Humanity has ever cooperated better.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Roger says:

                The union movement was totally irrelevant to the Progressive Era and to rising standards of living, standards such as workplace safety, child labour and the 40 hour week.

                I see. All this cooperative problem solving bushwa, Roger, I must ask: are you now, or have you ever been — a crypto-Marxist! [insert four bars of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue here]. Say it ain’t so!Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

                Toccata and Funk?Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Roger says:

                Not totally irrelevant. It just slowed down our progress a bit.

                As people become more prosperous, they desire a better environment, safer working conditions, more liesure, and a better life for their kids. Employers respond to these desires in order to attract good, productive employees. That is how supply and demand works.

                The fact that progressives are incapable of perceiving how decentralized, invisible hand systems work and therefore they replace it with fictional, top down causative agents is cute. Naive, yes, but cute.

                Union mythology is like a progressive Easter Bunny.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Roger says:

                I simply cannot fathom how you believe prosperity comes about via antagonistic struggle rather than cooperative problem solving.

                There’s lots of stuff in this comment. First, it seems to me that the term “prosperity”, as you’re using it, is ambiguous between “prosperity for all” and “prosperity for person (or group) X”. Historically, prosperity was a state that applied only to a handful of individuals, and expanding the circle of “the prosperous” required using leverage, and in a non-cooperative way – at least on your understanding of that term. So insofar as the circle of those experiencing prosperity has increased, historically speaking, it was generally the result of non-cooperative interactions. I mean, I think that’s just descriptively accurate, even if you might reject that things ought to have been that way in the past.

                Second, I think you’re using the term “prosperity” as a stand-in for the expression of an ideal – and preferred – way to achieve prosperity, rather than as a term describing how prosperity has actually been achieved. That is, I think you’re begging the question here. Take the rise of unions as a case in point. It seems to me there’s is just no way to coherently deny that the rise of US unions increased the prosperity of union members directly, and maybe even (more contentiously) increased the prosperity of non-union workers. But on your view, unions are paradigmatic instances of individuals not acting cooperatively.

                So it seems to me you’re not describing the actual world when you make a comment like the one above. Instead, you’re imposing a normative ideal on the world, at least insofar as economic transactions are concerned, and redefining the terms and conditions under which prosperity has in fact arisen to fit your preferred (idealized) model. And to the degree that your comment doesn’t apply to the actual world, I think your wrong (like fundamentally mistaken!) to criticize liberals for actually describing the world correctly.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Stillwater says:


                I’m concerned with prosperity for humanity.  The last decade saw more people rise out of poverty than any ever before in both numbers and percentage. This is the best decade ever for the human race. Let’s celebrate and learn from our success.

                I strongly agree, historically, that often coercion was used to oppose coercion. I recommend it still be used in this way as a last resort to prevent exploitation. I do not agree with proactively introducing coercion into voluntary agreements such as those used to establish wages or prices. I think it is wrong to use violence or government backed regulatory threats to keep fellow humans from competing with you in voluntary interactions.  It is modern day theft.

                “I think you’re using the term “prosperity” as a stand-in for the expression of an ideal – and preferred – way to achieve prosperity, rather than as a term describing how prosperity has actually been achieved. That is, I think you’re begging the question here.”

                I could go on for hours how prosperity is achieved.  Prosperity is achieved by solving the problems that people face. It comes about by meeting human needs and allowing people to accomplish the types of goals that people tend to value. See Jason’s recent post on Utility. For ten thousand years, virtually every non hunter gatherer society has been dominated by bandits and elites, who used coercion and lies to exploit the productive majority. They enslaved, limited and stole from them, and prevented change and open competition. 

                Since around 1776 –post Adam Smith — based upon roots planted by the Dutch and others, we began to perceive the potential for using voluntary interactions and specialization to create voluntary win win solutions.  We created value for all parties involved. Workers began to learn to cooperate with employers, who cooperated with investors to solve problems for consumers. We are prosperous because we have gotten better and better at solving more problems for humanity. This, again, was our best decade ever. 

                “…the rise of unions as a case in point. It seems to me there’s is just no way to coherently deny that the rise of US unions increased the prosperity of union members directly, and maybe even (more contentiously) increased the prosperity of non-union workers. But on your view, unions are paradigmatic instances of individuals not acting cooperatively.”

                As I argued with Mark earlier this year, unions cannot function in their current form without being coercive and exploitative.  To oversimplify, you can only force employers to pay more than the going market rate by using violence or government backed threats, and by forcefully requiring that employers do not hire other candidates who would gladly accept the lower wage.  It is totally wrong, read evil, to use force to prevent a prospective worker from having an opportunity to take a wage at a lower rate. Unions work by exploiting the less skilled, the more needy and consumers (all of us).  In other words modern day unions are organized theft.  They work by introducing barriers to liberty and free entry. We would all be richer today if they did not exist. Luckily, outside of monopolistic and screwed up industries,they no longer thrive in the US. That is of course because they destroy the very industries that they parasite.  

                “So it seems to me you’re not describing the actual world when you make a comment like the one above. Instead, you’re imposing a normative ideal on the world, at least insofar as economic transactions are concerned, and redefining the terms and conditions under which prosperity has in fact arisen to fit your preferred (idealized) model.”

                As above, I understand using coercion to oppose coercion. Sometimes the only way to fight fire is with fire. I do not support using coercion to interfere with voluntary, positive sum interactions without negative externalities. 

                To circle back to the discussion, I think it is absurdly wacky to argue what the fair rate is for teachers or any other profession. The only proven way to solve the problem efficiently is to allow supply and demand to establish the rate. If unions work by forcefully barring opencompetition, then they are part of the ten thousand year tradition of exploitation. You and the progressives support the bad guys.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Roger says:

                Your average Black or Hispanic person has 1 tenth of the wealth of your average white person. 75% of your average white person’s wealth has come out of racist policies. Exploitation is right under your nose.Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to Kimmi says:

                All the blacks and Hispanics in my family are glad their grandparents or ancestors came to America so they could have the opportunity to live prosperous and free lives. None wants to move back to Jamaica or Mexico. Not even close.

                There are plenty of theories of why different cultures achieve different results. Many minorities are thriving here, and I am unaware of any major groups that have done worse here than wherever their original home was.

                I am on vacation, and will be out of contact and unable to expand on this line of discussion.Report

            • Avatar Mr. Harris in reply to Roger says:

              Actually, up until the last decade teaching was NOT a desired profession. Teacher shortages in many large urban school districts forced schools leaders to lower the requirements necessary to stand in front of a classroom. No Child Left Behind requirements changed this to the system most districts have in place now. There’s also some evidence that tightening job market in the latter part of the decade has brought more young people into the profession than would have otherwise but e Great Recession has actually limited the amount of jobs available to them.


              I’m not exactly sure how this qualifies teaching as a “highly” desired job. Perhaps you can explain.Report

  10. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    A good article about the whole deal from Corey Robin –


    “In my childhood world, grown ups basically saw teachers as failures and fuck-ups. “Those who can’t do, teach” goes the old saw. But where that traditionally bespoke a suspicion of fancy ideas that didn’t produce anything concrete, in my fancy suburb, it meant something else. Teachers had opted out of the capitalist game; they weren’t in this world for money. There could be only one reason for that: they were losers. They were dimwitted, unambitious, complacent, unimaginative, and risk-averse. They were middle class.

    No one, we were sure, became a teacher because she loved history or literature and wanted to pass that on to the next generation. All of them simply had no other choice. How did we know that? Because they weren’t lawyers or doctors or “businessmen”—one of those words, even in the post-Madmen era, still spoken with veneration and awe. It was a circular argument, to be sure, but its circularity merely reflected the closed universe of assumption in which we operated.”Report

  11. Avatar Mr. Harris says:

    “It’s not enough to pooh-pooh a given measure because it’s imperfect, without offering a superior alternative I can’t really take his point seriously”

    Ahh, and herein lies the rub, the elephant in the room if you will – the unfortunate equivelancy test applied by those who see economics models as applicable anywhere there’s a cashe of data waiting to parsed. Simply put, why do we so desperately need a metric to measure a teacher’s effectiveness at preparing young people for standardized tests?

    For every Raj Chetty there’s a dozen more academics and critics of using VAMs to evaluate teachers who work at Universities not called Harvard (and quite a few who do). Now, I don’t know what your vocation is James and will freely concede that you’re more knowledgable about the various movable parts of VAMs than I am. So perhaps it might be helpful to walk back through some of the events that led us to this point in time where a restless intelligencia, polity, and the keepers of the wealth feel that it’s absolutely vital to close that pesky achievement gap because, you know, China’s going to kick our asses if we don’t.

    You may recall that No Child Left Behind was G.W.Bush’s most ambitious piece of legislation prior to the attacks on 9/11. The goal was to require states to ramp up their standards with regard to what sort of qualifications were required to become a teacher. It also forced schools to set absurd goals like they’re students had to be 100% proficient in math and reading scores by 2013-14. Schools had to make yearly progress or they would be closed and taken over by publically funded, privately managed alternative (charters)if they failed make gains for 4 years in a row. It all made perfect sense to legislators, so much so that it passed with enormous bipartisan support (more Dems voted for it than Repubs.). And for 10 years now schools have been narrowing their curriculums and focussing their efforts on test prep so that they won’t face the death penalty.

    Along comes Obama in 2009 and, like Bush, he has a congress that’s favorable to his education agenda, Race to the Top. Obama claims that he’s going to fix what ails the system, the real problem according to him, are ineffective teachers who must be weeded out of the system using a witches brew of observations by administrators, portfolios of student work, parent and student surveys, and of course, a demonstration of high growth rates on yearly standardized tests. How will districts measure those growth rates? You guessed it, VAMs.

    Now, when you examine student test scores, they don’t always perform higher than the year before. They have off years because, you know, their kids and they don’t always feel their best on test day or perhaps mommy and daddy had a fight that morning and they forgot to feed little junior before he ran to catch the bus. But what about the entire class? Won’t they make a more accurate sample for the VAMs? Turns out classes, even ones that are designed to have consistant characteristics in their learners still have wildly erratic results even if you you try and control for all other factors. Throw in the fact that teachers never get the same programs of students from year to year and it becomes obvious why their VAM result vary so much.

    For example, at a test-in gifted school down the street from me in Manhattan called The Anderson School worked the teacher in New York with the lowest VAM. She taught math to geeks who scored near perfectly from year-to-year. Naturally her ability to demonstrate significant improvement on their test score was hampered they pesky insistence that they perform as well as they always had. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/meet-the-worst-8th-grade-math-teacher-in-nyc/2012/05/15/gIQArmlbSU_blog.html

    Than there are the ELL and special ed. teachers who, try as they might, can only get their challenging students to move the needle so far. And what happens if half their class decides to go back to Pakistan for the summer and forget about using English, what happens to the teacher who has to research them all the language they forgot in the interim? That poor soul? Starts from a deficit but too bad, their evaluations, raises, and job status become tied to all these variables with which they have no control.

    So, allow me revisit my initial question; why do we need a metric for measuring teacher effectiveness at demonstrating student gains on standardized test? Will there ever be a competent way to measure a teacher’s effectiveness? The Gates Foundation has spent untold millions and several years study teacher effectiveness and their initial report was eviscerated by theReport