The CP Blog

Education Cuts: An Immodest Proposal

We did it! We’re raised the debt ceiling and lowered the deficit. How sweet it is. Now every American will have to tighten his or her belt and do their part. Everybody that is except those welfare parasites who make over $250,000 a year, can’t be trusted on commercial transit, have to resort to private jets, and who risk skin cancer by having to shelter gazillions in profits in climate challenged tax havens like Bermuda or the Cayman Islands. They’re exempt; and that’s a good thing because they’re the job creators.

So while they’re busy creating jobs let’s jump-start the belt tightening and get rid of some jobs. No time to waste. We’ll begin with education, that wasteful entitlement. And to paraphrase Shakespeare’s famous legal advice in King Henry VI, “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the teachers.” Well, let’s at least get rid of the bad apples who are a drag on district budgets and have generally ruined student achievement (learning?) in America’s K-12 schools. Actually, the president’s basketball buddy and Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, is ahead of the slash curve. He’s been flying around the country selling his brand of snake oil called Value Added Analysis to evaluate teacher effectiveness, which is then used to ferret out the teachers who are responsible for little Johnny’s poor performance on standardized tests. Looks like a sure fire way to catch those slacker teachers who’ve been gaming the system for their $52,674 a year salaries ( 08/2011). Unfortunately, Arnie and his surrogates who run school districts haven’t yet refined the value-added formula to account for variations in race and poverty among elementary school students. Decisions are made in a fog of regression analysis. The District of Columbia Public Schools refused to give 8th grade teacher Sarah Bax their algorithm for determining her value added score because…shhhh…it’s a secret. So I’ll just cut to the chase and give you the secret value-added formula used to determine which elementary teachers stay and which ones go in Houston, Texas: y = X? + Zv + ? where ? is a p-by-1 vector of fixed effects; X is an n-by-p matrix; v is a q-by-1 vector of random effects; Z is an n-by-q matrix; E(v) = 0, Var(v) = G; E(?) = 0, Var(?) = R; Cov(v,?) = 0. V = Var(y) = Var(y – X?) = Var(Zv + ?) = ZGZT + R.

Come on people! Moody’s and Standard & Poor are holding the sword of Damocles over our national credit rating. We need to act now. We can’t take the time to master quantum physics just so some out-of-work 4th grade teacher can tie us up in litigation for the next ten years. We have to dump salaries pronto; do more with less. But how?

I propose we use the same system in lower education for separating the wheat from the chaff that we do in higher education: Student Evaluations of Faculty (SEF). SEF at colleges has professors on the run: bad SEF, no tenure for you, doc. And if cutbacks are in the wind, negative SEF’s will trim your sails – hasta la vista el professore. Professors fear the almighty SEF so much that they hand out A’s and B’s like candy. The good news is that grade inflation is rampant at both public and private universities so gpa’s are way up, and the amount of homework is down. Transcripts tell us college students are learning and achieving at record levels. Studies tell us the opposite is true. In Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press, 2011), Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, found that:

Increasingly, time-pressured college teachers ask themselves, “What grade will ensure no complaint from the student, or worse, a quasi-legal battle over whether the instructions for an assignment were clear enough?” So, the number of A-range grades keeps going up, and the motivation for students to excel keeps going down.

The common wisdom, for the untenured, at least—whether it is true or not—is to find ways to keep the students happy: Expect little, smile a lot, gesture freely, show movies, praise them constantly, give high marks, bring cookies on evaluation day.

That’s how the big boys do it in higher education. Like Congress they let special interests dictate decisions on major issues. They ask the kids. We could do it in K-12 and save the money we now spend on value-added consulting firms and avoid all that objectivityishness. In fact, there’s already a website called RateMyTeachers that allows kids and parents to rate their teachers. It’s free. Teachers are given a score of 1 to 5 on: Overall Easiness, Overall Helpfulness, and Overall Clarity. Students may also comment. Here are some random examples. I’ll let you play Donald Trump and decide the fates of these teachers.

“Man this guy is the best teacher even better than Fujita he took the whole class to burger king and paid he understands us teens of how boring school can get so he makes it fun.”

“Mrs. C may not be the best teacher, but she’s definitely better than people say she is.”

“Way to hard. Since it is that hard, I did not learn anything even though I thought I understand what I suppose to do.”

“A very good teacher. Is very helpful. Has a nice ghetto booty.” (no way this one gets away)

We’re not going to raise taxes, or reinstate previous tax rates to maintain Title I commitments to pay for our future. We’re demonizing teachers and their representatives in the name of raising test scores so we can lower the bottom line. We’re devising arcane and flawed formulas to do what administrators apparently are unable to do; decide who stays and who must go. We’re paying tax dollars to consultants and think tanks to provide the data, even as those experts acknowledge that America’s most intractable problems – race and poverty – cannot be accurately quantified, though teachers deal with the effects in the classroom every day. We’re increasing class size and eliminating proven educational services like arts and counseling. Why not turn the decision making over to the kids? We had our “adult conversation”. How’s that working out?