Education Summit: Top Five Most Inane Comments
A few day ago I spent the afternoon in an Education Summit hosted by the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute. The entire afternoon I wished I could respond to the discourse, so here are the top five most innane things I heard and my brief thoughts (not in any particular order).
1. Reduced funding to education is the “new normal” Senator Shapiro.
Thought: Cloaking Inequity on School Finance.
2. Phillip Handy proudly posited that Florida’s per pupil spending has only gone up by about $1,000 since the 1990s. He is content that their Latino students scoring on the NAEP just above the halfway point amongst states.
Thought: Is being average really something to be proud of? See Cloaking Inequity’s analysis of the “Florida Miracle” here.
3. Phillip Handy proudly argued that competition is a “disruptive” force in the educational system in Florida. He stated, “What our opponents saw as compromises on choice we saw as victory… We set all these stakes out there to keep our opposition busy.” As a result, we ended up with the variety of choice mechanisms that we wanted.
Thoughts: See Cloaking Inequity on Vouchers and Charters.
4. Sen. Shapiro: She stated, “We have something called teacher unions in Texas….They are not interested in helping any students. Period.”
5. Leo Linbeck: Class size reduction “being beneficial is a myth.”
Thought: Biggest bang for your buck for achievement in Texas Latino elementary schools? Student-Teacher ratio. See the study here.
Extra Thought: Mike Feinburg was clearly on his game. Collection of his comments: Opening volley? Told Phillip Handy that Florida hadn’t closed the achievement gap. Called the Texas Legislator “Eye of Sauron” (From Lord of the Rings) Said we need to be most accountable to parents. KIPP is more interested in Colorado, Louisiana and Florida because of the lack of resources for charters in Texas. KIPP is in a “talent war and a student war” with Houston ISD and other traditional public districts. A Third of KIPP Schools are in Texas. Who knew? Their new strategy: Having KIPP “hallways” within schools… interesting… Ravitch challenged them to go bigger, they went smaller…
Thoughts: Cloaking Inequity on KIPP.
One more thing… they also discussed parent trigger laws. Could we also enact legislator trigger laws so we can instantly fire legislators if they cut another $5.4 billion from education in Texas? Clearly the Legislature has dropped the ball on revenue, and it has cost our kids and schools. They need to be more “productive” in the upcoming legislative session so that we don’t continue the divestment in public education by elegantly utilizing the discourse of performance, productivity, and efficiency.
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While it’s never pleasant to have one’s comment make a “Top Five Most Inane Comments” list, I do appreciate having a venue in which to respond – kudos to Prof. Vasquez Heilig for having an open comments section on his blog.
The question of student teacher ratios, as Prof. Vasquez Heilig’s linked study mentions, is a quite controversial one. The Center for American Progress published a white paper last year (http://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2011/04/pdf/class_size.pdf) which explored this subject, and helps frame the broad issue well. (As a conservative communitarian, it’s probably scandalous to see me referring to a study from CAP, but it highlights the way in which education policy does not necessarily fit neatly into traditional political categories.)
Still, it’s clear that I failed to put my “inane comment” in its proper context. I feel that it is incumbent upon me to correct this failure now.
The context is this: over the past 20 years in Texas, it is indisputable that class sizes have gotten smaller. Over a time when student enrollments grew by 37%, the number of teachers has grown by 50%. The promise of CSR policies was that if we have smaller classes, outcomes will improve and the achievement gap will narrow.
This has not happened, of course. Outcomes have not improved, and the achievement gap has persisted. My view is that this is due to two interlinked effects:
1. CSR leads to an expansion in the number of teachers which leads to an influx of below-average teachers into the profession. If a school needs 30 teachers, it will tend to hire the 30 best teachers. If it then needs to hire 40 teachers, those 10 additional teachers will tend to be lower quality than the other 30. This is not to say that those 10 teachers are incompetent, simply that on a relative basis that will not be as good as the 30 who were already there.
2. The expansion of the number of teachers tends to hit low-income communities disproportionately. If a suburban School A and an urban School B each need to hire 10 more teachers as in our example above, there is a strong incentive for School A to “poach” 10 good teachers from School B’s group of 30. This leaves School A with 40 good teachers, and School B with 20 good teachers and 20 below-average teachers. Essentially, the “haves” take from the “have nots.”
It was in that context that I made my remarks. Universal CSR policies – when viewed on an aggregate basis – have tended to have a disproportionately negative impact on high-need, low-income schools. In that respect, I think they have contributed to the achievement gap, and have been one of the worst public education policies promoted over the past few decades. One might still disagree with this view, but it is unfair to characterize it as “inane.”
Finally, I should add that there are definitely situations where CSR can make a positive impact. (Prof. Vasquez Heilig’s study identified one possible scenario.) We should NOT mandate larger class sizes, and more than we should mandate smaller ones. The right solution is to empower principals and superintendents to make these decisions, rather than having one-size-fits-all policies (such as Texas’ current 22:1 student-teacher ratio) shoved down the throat of local educators by well-meaning, but misguided state officials.
That is one reason why I am working with a bi-partisan coalition of educators and business leaders to promote policies that push decision-making authority from Austin to local school districts, and empower families by giving them greater control over the education of their children. (See our website at http://www.tffeducation.org for more details on our proposal.)
In a state as diverse as Texas, we must establish a system of local control and family empowerment. Centralization has undermined our local communities, our education profession, and our ability to prepare our children for future success. It is time to end this destructive trend, and to bring decision-making back closer to the people.
Leo Linbeck III
Aquinas Companies, LLC
Stanford Graduate School of Business
Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program
The biggest issue is that we believe there is a “one-size-fits-all” educational policy out there. There is someone out there that the shirt and hat fit, but its not me. We need to think about boutiqued educational policy. Class size reduction didn’t work on a large scale in California and elsewhere because the most important input, teacher quality, was not attended to.