‘Irreplaceable’ Teachers Retained Poorly, TNTP Education Report Finds

‘Irreplaceable’ Teachers Retained Poorly, TNTP Education Report Finds

by Joy Resmovits

The high rate of teachers cycling in and out of schools is detrimental to the education profession and worse for students, decades of policy and research asserts. But a new report from an influential advocacy group makes the case for treating teacher turnover differently.

The study, called “The Irreplaceables,” took several years for TNTP (formerly The New Teacher Project) to produce, and asserted that a high rate of teachers moving in and out of the profession isn’t necessarily bad.

“The whole basis of federal education policy since the ’60s has been the idea that if kids got greater access to opportunity, they would do better, so the main focus of policy should be increasing that sort of equity, access to teachers,” TNTP president Tim Daly said in an interview.

Rather, TNTP asserted, a high turnover rate among teachers who are “so successful they are nearly impossible to replace” — the “irreplaceables” — is the real problem. “Our analysis suggests that the problem is not the loss of too many teachers, but the loss of the wrong teachers,” Daly wrote in an e-mail introducing the report.

Using teacher performance data and surveys in four school districts and a group of charter schools, TNTP found that improving schools without doing a better job at retaining “irreplaceables” is nearly impossible, and that poor retention policies “degrade” the teaching profession by not paying special attention to keeping top-performing teachers. It recommended teaching principals to better hold onto “irreplaceables” and to “counsel out” low performers, and revamping policies around teacher management, such as tenure and seniority. TNTP also recommended dismissing teachers “who cannot teach as well as the average first-year teacher.”

TNTP works to place teaching fellows in school districts across the country. The group was carved out of Wendy Kopp’s Teach for America and founded by former Washington, D.C., schools chief Michelle Rhee.

The report is bound to affect policy, given TNTP’s track record — and its splashy release Monday with the National Education Association, D.C. schools chief Kaya Henderson, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. “TNTP’s report documents in painful detail that school leaders are doing far too little to nurture, retain, and reward great teachers — and not nearly enough to identify and assist struggling teachers,” Duncan said in a statement. And many cite TNTP’s 2009 Widget Effect report, which revealed the underutilization of teacher evaluations, as a driver of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top Competition.

But the report’s definition of “irreplaceables” is fuzzy, and varies across the school districts that were surveyed. Matthew Di Carlo, writing on the blog of the Albert Shanker Institute, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, said the “irreplaceables,” as defined by the report, are better described as “probably above average.”

The politics around the report spotlight the making of education advocacy research. In the report’s acknowledgements, TNTP thanked the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation, among others, for support. These organizations pay to push policies known as education reform that make it easier to fire teachers based on students’ low standardized test scores — and reams of research to support that conclusion.

“There’s been a massive investment in research to support the reform theory,” said Craig Jerald, an independent education consultant who has done research for both Gates and teachers’ unions. This research, along with reform advocacy, has forced teachers’ unions to express, for the first time, concern with the low performers among their ranks. While the distinction isn’t that clear cut, in general, the reformers and unions have different ways of approaching these low performers. Unions stress improving them through professional development. Reformers, including the authors of the TNTP report, want to get them out of the classroom faster. “People who support the development side haven’t supported much quantitative research,” Jerald said.

Jerald said he expects the report’s claim that most low-performing teachers don’t improve to be its most controversial. “It’ll force people who disagree with that to go out there and do some research,” he said. “I can’t think of any quantitative research that disputes that.”

TNTP researchers used value-added measurements — a widely used metric that is supposed to tease out teachers’ effects on students’ standardized tests — based on only one year of teacher performance in some cases. The single-year metric is known to be unreliable. “Using multiple years of classroom observations for teachers will reduce sorting bias in value-added estimates,” wrote Cory Koedel, a University of Missouri economist known for his expertise on value-added, in a 2009 report. “This result raises concerns about using single-year measures of teacher value-added to evaluate teacher effectiveness.”

Koedel, however, served on the advisory board of experts that helped guide the TNTP paper. He said his concerns about using such measures have been mostly assuaged by a 2011 Harvard study that found that a teacher’s single-year value-added measures modestly affect students’ earnings later in life. Differences in identifying “irreplaceables” between districts, he said, are “something to be thoughtful about,” but don’t affect the report’s qualitative conclusions. “There’s all kinds of studies in academic literature in terms of teacher turnover, a generic thing,” Koedel said. “The thing is we want good teachers to stay and bad teachers to leave.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called the report “puzzling.”

“On the one hand it makes the point of the importance of keeping good teachers and what’s needed to do that,” Weingarten said in a statement. “On the other, it assumes that someone can magically become a good teacher and that school leadership means simply firing bad teachers. What is missing is the work that needs to be done to create continuous development and support systems to help all teachers become great teachers.”

The Global Search for Education: What Is Good?

The Global Search for Education: What Is Good?

by C. M. Rubin

“How do we preserve some sense of Truth, Beauty and
Goodness at a time when we have so much change going on?”

Truth, Beauty, Goodness — what do they mean to young and old in a 21st century world experiencing dramatic technological and philosophical change? A man who understands the difficulty in educating for the virtues in a challenging new age is perhaps better known around the world for his theory of multiple intelligences than for his decades of study of a topic which is arguably the most pertinent of our times.

I wondered how the theories and views expressed in Dr. Howard Gardner’s book, Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Age of Truthiness and Twitter, might apply to some of the egregious moral break-downs such as the sexual abuse, invasion of privacy, standardized test cheating and plagiarism scandals which have haunted some of our most respected institutions recently. He agreed to discuss this with me.

Howard Gardner is the John H. and Elisabeth A. Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Among numerous honors, Gardner received a MacArthur Prize Fellowship in 1981. He has received honorary degrees from 26 colleges and universities. In 2005 and 2008, he was selected by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines as one of the 100 most influential public intellectuals in the world.

CMR: What inspired you to write Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed: Educating for the Virtues in the Age of Truthiness and Twitter?

HG: I began as a psychologist. When educators showed interest in my work, I began to reflect on my own educational vision. 15 years ago, I began working on a book called The Disciplined Mind. In that book I argued that the purpose of education, beyond the acquisition of literacies, is to give us the tools to determine what’s true and what’s not, what’s beautiful and what’s not, and what’s good and what’s not. To make it concrete, I used three examples. For truth, I used the theory of evolution. For beauty, I used the music of Mozart. For goodness and badness, I used the Holocaust. I was interested in how we could make use of our multiple intelligences to convey these very rich topics.

Critiques came from two different directions. On the one hand, there were philosophical and epistemological critiques from postmodernism, which basically said; “Who are YOU to say what’s true? Beauty is an old fashioned idea. Goodness is relative.” So I got a pretty severe postmodern critique. The second critique came from the emerging technologies. At the time the book was written, no one had thought about the web, social networks, Twitter and virtual realities. And yet each of these inventions challenges traditional notions of truth, beauty, goodness. I realized I had to go back to the drawing boards. If Truth, Beauty and Goodness are to be the backbone of education, I had to be able to respond to the philosophical critiques on the one hand and to the technological revolution on the other. So that is what inspired me to write the book.

CMR: What is the principal message of Truth, Beauty and Goodness Reframed?

HG: The right question: How do we preserve some sense of Truth, Beauty and Goodness at a time we have so much change going on?

1. With respect to truth, we need to understand the METHOD by which people make their assertions. What is the basis, what is the evidence, for truth claims?

2. With respect to beauty, the canon is gone. The good news is that we have access to all the works of art ever created and we can each form our own portfolio (physical, virtual or just in your head) of beauty. These will be things that we find interesting and memorable, things we wish to revisit. Our portfolio of beautiful things can be very diverse and it will also change over time.

3. With respect to goodness: When it comes to how you treat your neighbor, the answer is contained in the Ten Commandments. But when it comes to how you deal with people in a complex, division of labor, hyper connected world, we have to reinvent our relations to other people. In our study of good play (see goodworkproject.org) we ask how, in the 21st century, we reinvent things like privacy, intellectual property, identity, trust-worthiness, and what it means to belong to a community.

CMR: Competition to succeed has become more intense than ever. How do we balance competition in our lives? How might the views in your book apply to some of the standardized test cheating scandals that continue to make headlines?

HG: In Truth, Beauty and Goodness, I recommend the creation of what I call “commons.” Within schools (both physical and virtual) we need places where people can talk honestly about the problems that arise in our contemporary world with respect to the mission of that institution — for example a school, or a newspaper.

Consider, for example, how to use a commons when there is an epidemic of cheating. We bring together parents, students and teachers, and it’s often a revelation. For example, the parent might say, “You know you should not cheat. I told you cheating was wrong.” The child might reply, “Yes, but when I came home with a B you said I don’t want any more B’s.” The child says to the teacher, “Sam and I told you that Johnny cheated but you did nothing about it.” Or, “You wrote the same thing on all of our papers rather than reading each paper carefully.” And so you need to have very open conversations, skillfully moderated, leading to viable policies that are enforced.

An example discussed in the book. Some years ago the Dean of Admissions at a major university had been fired because she had lied about her credentials. In the group of 20 students I was working with, nobody endorsed the firing of the Dean. Either the students said, “Well, if she was doing a good job, why fire her?” Or they said, “Everybody lies on their resume.”

To answer your question, here are the simple choices. Either you say this is the way things are and there is nothing more we can do OR you say this is the new world and we can do better. We need vivid examples of good work, and vivid examples of the consequences of bad work — both for the bad worker and for the larger society. When the head of a large bank in England recently got in trouble because of tinkering with the interest rates, he was forced to resign. If teachers or presidents of universities submit the work of others as their own, they should be fired.

CMR: You have said that “the odds of ascertaining the truth about something are better than ever…” Would this apply to the Murdoch hacking scandal?

HG: There is a huge amount of information on the internet and there are many claims. If somebody makes a claim, you have to ask what kind of evidence do they have? If they have evidence, they are credible. If they do not, you should ignore it. Twenty or thirty years ago, there were only a few recognized media. There were also things that journalists knew but that they did not publish. That has all changed. The delicious paradox of the Murdoch case is that he was using technology tools to get information but now those technology tools are been used on him.

CMR: How do the views expressed in your book apply to some of the egregious moral break-downs within our most respected institutions such as the child abuse scandal at Penn State and the alleged abuse at the Horace Mann School in Riverdale?

HG: My distinction between neighborhood morality and the ethics of roles is helpful here. Abusing children is always wrong. These are immoral acts that need to be identified and punished the way any violations of the Ten Commandments are. Anybody who would defend pedophilia would be foolish.

The ethics of roles comes in when the question is raised about organizations that do credentialing of other professional organizations. On what basis can they remove either the individuals who work at those institutions (like a coach or a president) or the institution itself (removing its degree granting powers)? How do you deal with a large institution in cases where a Dean lies about her credentials or the higher-ups ignore the reports of child abuse? In my terms, those are ethical issues not moral issues. It is easier to deal with a situation if you already have an operating ethical code like the Hippocratic oath.

CMR: When we create a culture that is highly competitive, i.e. success is based on results – are we setting ourselves up for some of the issues we’ve discussed today?

HG: Absolutely. When the word goes out that you are going to be judged by how much money you bring in, and in addition, someone is indicating “I’m not interested in how you are going to do it, just go for it!”, there is a problem. If you see your life as a series of steps from an elite private school to an Ivy League School to Goldman Sachs or its equivalent, and you are going to keep blinders on from anything that might keep you from getting there, you are likely to end up in big trouble. One of the things I say in my book is this: If you want to be a journalist, the decision whether to work for NPR or for Fox is an incredibly important decision.

In the case of issues that institutions like News Corp, or Penn State or Horace Mann are facing today, I think the first question one needs to ask is: Is this damage control or does this require serious purging, rethinking, reinvention? If it’s damage control, how we get better press releases, and what we do to correct the immediate problem, then I can predict the next crisis is at hand.

If we decide there is something seriously wrong with a community that could do this kind of thing, and that we need to reflect, rethink and perhaps rework what we do and how we do it, then there is some hope for serious change. And here is where the “commons” comes in. There need to be norms and rules that emerge from the discussions of the principal stakeholders in an organization. In a school, that may include the college admissions officer, the teachers, the parents and the students in the same room. Policies must have “buy in” from all these groups. One of the reasons some institutions don’t prosecute kids for cheating is that the parents threaten to sue. The consequences have to be publically known and the stakeholders, including parents, have to support them.

When somebody violates a core principle, that person needs to be punished and that punishment needs to be known. As far as I know, in 375 years, Harvard has never fired a tenured professor for plagiarism. But today you can’t keep things secret anymore and that is what’s good.

CMR: How should we assess truth and goodness?

HG: Someone in India took my work very literally and came up with a ten point scale for goodness. I responded. Rather than quantifying, why don’t we just have an arrow instead? If something looks healthy and ethical, we’ll let the arrow point up. If it looks like it’s getting worse, we’ll let the arrow point down. To me, that’s a far better way to think about the moral fiber of a place, and not 1 to 10. I’d be happy if Goldman Sachs, Horace Mann, Penn State, or Harvard would install a commons with an arrow that could be reoriented in the center.

Profanity and Grammar: Lessons From History

Profanity and Grammar: Lessons From History

by William B. Bradshaw

As I sat in the theater watching a movie that received seven academy award nominations, I was struck by the unusual amount of profanity — especially the use of the “f” word. My mind recalled an order issued by General George Washington to his officers during the Revolutionary War.

“The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, heretofore little known in the army, is growing into fashion. He hopes the offices will, by example as well as by influence, endeavor to check it.”

The use of profanity has continued to “grow into fashion,” as Washington put it, and now the use of vulgar, crude, tasteless, and coarse language seems to be the norm, not only in the military, but also in everyday life.

In high school I was a four-year letterman in track and also a fairly good golfer. I was one cocky young athlete who was accustomed to using a lot of profanity. At the end of my senior year in high school I was invited by Missouri University’s track coach to visit the university. During that visit, the coach, two track stars at the university, and I spent the better part of one day playing golf at a prestigious country club. It was quite an experience!

After dinner that evening, the coach took me to his office, where he offered me a scholarship. He went on to say that it had been a difficult decision for him. He thought I had great potential as a runner and would definitely add depth to the team, but questioned whether I would fit in with the other members of the track team. And he made it clear that if I did not meld with the other members of the team, regardless of how fast a runner I was, my scholarship would be terminated and I would be dismissed from the team.

His stern and direct comments caught me off guard. It had been a great day, and I had, so to speak, been wined and dined: I had been the center of attention all day. After all, I was one of the faster half-milers around, and I was, so I thought, one great catch for any track team. Yet, I knew that something he had noticed about me during our day on the golf course was troubling him and was threatening my chance of being on the MU track team, something I had dreamed of ever since becoming a competitive runner. My mind was rapidly replaying the day’s activities: what could possibly be bothering him? I did not need to wait long to find out.

Locking eyes with me, the coach went on to explain that he did not approve of the use of profanity by members of his team. University students, including athletes, he said, should develop adequate vocabularies to express their feelings without the use of coarse language. Furthermore, he said, using profanity in public, as I did, was just in poor taste.

For the first time, I began to realize that today’s role models and public figures in our society were those who used words other than profanity in expressing themselves. Since that day, for me profanity has been a thing of the past. And, not meaning to sound arrogant, I think I do a pretty good job of communicating with others and expressing my emotions without the use of crude, vulgar language.

When I was being reared, most people were selective about when they cursed: for example, not around children or women or parents or in public where others could hear, and certainly not in movies. Although I was only a young boy, I still remember the stir the use of the word “damn” caused when it was used in the movie Gone With the Wind. This was the famous scene in which Clark Gable, playing Rhett Butler, said his parting words to Scarlet, being played by Vivian Leigh: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” It was shocking to most people because at that time profanity just wasn’t used in reputable films. My, things have changed!

The abundant use of profanity is one of the significant signs of what I call the “dumbing down of America.” The excessive, needless, and inappropriate use of profane, coarse, crude, tasteless, and obscene language is becoming the norm: more and more people just don’t seem to have at their command the needed adjectives other than profanity to let others know what they are thinking or how they are feeling.

Limited use of profanity may seem appropriate occasionally, but for the most part I think George Washington had it right: let’s “check it.” Who really wants to live in a society where crudeness, tastelessness, and vulgarity are just the accepted and practiced way of life we are faced with all the time? I know I don’t want that for my family — my wife, children, grandchildren — neither do I want that kind of environment to do business in. And it doesn’t need to be that way. There’s a simple remedy, and it could start with you.

Whenever you start to use a swear word, see if you can come up with some other word(s) that will express your thoughts and emotions just as adequately as, or even better than, profanity. At first you may have to stop and think about it, but before long you will be surprised at how your vocabulary will expand to include words that are as powerful and descriptive as profanity and are acceptable for use regardless of whom you are with or what you are doing. Additionally, parents can be a powerful force in fighting the needless use of profanity by using clean vocabulary around their children. Why not give it a try?

Standardization Will Destroy Our Education System, If It Hasn’t Already

Standardization Will Destroy Our Education System, If It Hasn’t Already

by Eric Sheninger

This summer I have made a commitment to reading more, and have chosen books that I think will help me become a better leader. A few weeks ago I finished Drive by Daniel Pink and am now halfway through Linchpin by Seth Godin. I highly recommend both of these books to any educator who is interested about the science behind motivation or overcoming resistance in order to become an indispensible component of an educational organization.

Through my reading of both books, it has become painfully clear that many of our current politicians and so-called educational reformers have it completely wrong when it comes to standardization. Now, I have always thought this was the case, but these two books have not only reaffirmed my views, but have also given me a great deal of concern as we inch closer to an educational system that focuses on test scores as the number one determinant of achievement.

Dan Pink reveals that the keys to unlocking and sustaining intrinsic motivation are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. As a leader, this is the type of teaching and learning culture that I want to foster and cultivate, one where creativity flourishes, students find relevancy and meaning in their learning, and teachers are given the support to be innovative. A teaching and learning culture powered by intrinsic motivation will achieve this.

Unfortunately, we are being forced in the opposite direction. The current education movement is laden with “if-then” rewards and a “carrots and sticks” approach to motivation. If students score well on standardized tests, they move on to the next grade level or graduate while their teachers receive favorable marks on evaluations. These are forms of extrinsic motivation and will work in short term, but performance will not be sustainable as it will be with those motivated intrinsically. The same can be said for merit pay. Pink has provided a compelling case as to why this will never work and this is supported by the research.

Students are not motivated by standardized tests, as they find no true meaning and value in them. Teachers are motivated for all the wrong reasons, some of which includes job security or a financial incentive. A focus on standardization narrows the curriculum and creates a teaching culture where creativity, exploration, and critical thinking are scarce or non-existent. It creates a culture that students do not want to be a part of and one that can only be sustained with the use of “if-then” rewards or “carrots and sticks.” Is this the direction we want to go? Do we want schools to squash creativity and reinforce a model that worked well in the 20th century but will not prepare our students for their future?

Seth Godin describes linchpins as indispensable components of an organization — artists in their own right. These individuals don’t follow a manual, but instead are guided by an urge to do what is right. In my opinion, we want to create schools that allow teachers to become linchpins because, in the end, students benefit from their creativity, passion, and innovative mindset. However, standardization follows in the footsteps of a century-old education model focused on industrialization, which influences teachers and administrators in a way where the artist in each of them never evolves. This entrenched system produces students that lack creativity, are fearful of failure, work extremely hard to follow directions (homework, study for tests, not question authority), and are leaving schools with undesirable skills in a post-industrial society. Schools focus more on filling the minds of students with useless facts and knowledge as opposed to learning essential skills that can’t be measured with a #2 pencil.

Godin continues to provide example after example of how education has it all wrong. Take the resume for example. Virtually every school has students craft a resume to go along with their college application materials. Students don’t need resumes, they need to create artifacts of learning that provide details as to what they can really do or know. Godin provides a compelling alternative to a traditional resume and hiring process. I have tweaked the business example he provided into an educational one. Instead of standardization, have students make a presentation of their resume and skills learned while in school. Have them defend, answer questions, and lead a discussion with a variety of stakeholders. Does this seem more meaningful and relevant? When analyzing the science of motivation presented in Drive, I would certainly say so.

My only hope, and this is wishful thinking, is that research and common sense will ultimately prevail to save our education system from future demise if those with influence and power keep steering us in a failed direction. Let us learn from the past and create an educational system that instills a sense of intrinsic motivation and creates learners that are indispensible.

Dark Knight’ Killer James Holmes Received $26K Grant From Government

Dark Knight’ Killer James Holmes
Received $26K Grant From Government

by Jim Kane

James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people during a Dark Knight screening in Colorado, may have financed the rampage with a $26,000 stipend he received from the federal government.

Holmes, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Colorado-Denver, received the money from an agency which comes under the purview of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

This could explain how an unemployed college student was able to afford an AR-15, a shotgun, two pistols and 6,000 rounds of ammunition. In addition to the living stipend, Holmes got free tuition, under a grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The NIH, which is part of the DHHS, can’t be faulted for giving the money to Holmes. How could anyone predict something like this would happen? But, it would be an awful irony if federal tax dollars were used to pay for one of the worse mass shootings in American history.

The NIH conducts a background check on students, but maybe there should be a psychological evaluation, as well.

This story gets stranger and stranger. Every day, the public seems to learn more details about the enigmatic Dark Knight shooter, but there are still so many unanswered questions. Did Holmes use federal grant money to buy this weaponry?

Schools Are Not Businesses

There’s a reason why business-minded education reformers like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bill Gates have been attracted to testing, says The Nation‘s Dana Goldstein. But education is a very different realm from the that of the boardroom, and, as she explains, “it can be really problematic to bring this more corporate way of thinking into schools.” 

Erin Schikowski



‘Secundus Defecated Here’: What Ancient Graffiti Means Today

‘Secundus Defecated Here’: What Ancient Graffiti Means Today

by Cord Jefferson

Easily the best thing I’ve seen on the internet in a while I found late last week while cruising around Tumblr. It was a link to Pompeiana.org, a website from some classics scholars interested in educating the public on Pompeii, which was destroyed in the first century by Mount Vesuvius. The whole site is interesting, if not a little dated aesthetically, but what I found most intriguing was the graffiti page.

Indeed, in an effort to more deeply understand Pompeii, researchers have delved not only into the city’s architecture and frescoes, but also all the graffiti to be found throughout its ancient walls. But before you go assuming the ancient Pompeiians vandalized with only the most brilliant bons mots—“Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” everywhere, perhaps—I suggest reading exactly what the excavators have dug up. Here, a list of some of my favorites:

    Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds.

    Goodbye, wondrous femininity!

    Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates.

    I screwed the barmaid.

    Apollinaris, the doctor of the emperor Titus, defecated well here.

    I screwed a lot of girls here.

    Sollemnes, you screw well!

If you’d like to read all the graffiti (and I recommend you do), you can do so here. But you needn’t read it all to see one thing very clearly: Despite whatever beliefs you may have about the dignity of the Roman Empire, a whole host of Romans, it seems, were foul-mouthed, hyper-sexual, and frequently prone to sophomoric humor. The Pompeiians were a smart people, of course, and they built a beautiful city well ahead of its time. But it turns out that they were also kind of juvenile. Go figure.

In and of itself, the graffiti is interesting. Juxtaposed with today’s society, however, the silly musings say a lot about the tired conservative talking point that modern culture has somehow fallen into immorality and chaos. Rick Santorum was once quoted as saying, “Satan has his sights on the United States of America.” Elsewhere, David Cameron blamed 2011’s London riots on a “moral collapse.” In an American Conservative piece from last year titled “America’s Moral Decline,” the author ends with: “Neither Democrats or Republicans have the exclusive rights to morality, American or otherwise. But both parties continue to do grave damage to some of the most cherished values that have always made this country great.”  Do a simple Google search for “America’s moral decline” and you’ll encounter thousands upon thousands of shrill rants from people convinced that our “sex-crazed” society is rapidly decaying. For decades now, the professional right has made a big business out of pretending that TV, the rise of gay culture, rap music, and dozens of other things have contributed to the fall of a once greatly moral world, all the while seeming to forget that Thomas Jefferson is known to have taken sexual advantage of his slaves and Benjamin Franklin is believed by some to have been part of a drunken orgy club.

It may make you feel nice to pretend that the societies that gave rise to the modern world were ones of pure honor and decency, but that’s not reality. The world isn’t on a moral decline, because there was never a time when the world was particularly morally superior. If we can glean anything from the Pompeiian graffiti, it’s that even citizens of history’s most immaculate and important civilizations liked their sex and poop jokes. And that fact is as humbling as any magnificent and ancient temple.


The Market for Teacher Voice

The Market for Teacher Voice

by Allie Kimmel

The teachers unions are under attack — and not just from Scott Walker. In a recent white paper, Mitt Romney blamed the unions for gridlock and stagnation in American education. In the public discourse, films such as Waiting for Superman vilify union leaders and frame the unions as enemies of education reform. It’s fair to say even President Obama and the unions have a rocky relationship, as the administration has supported initiatives that unions have long opposed, such as charter schools and tenure reform. Public dissatisfaction with the unions is mounting, and the ways in which teachers and the groups that represent them respond will shape the profession for years to come.

In addition to attacks from politicians, media, and the public, some teachers have also voiced criticism of their unions. Unsatisfied teachers can respond in one of two ways:

1. Teachers can leave their union. Though they may still need to pay union dues in states without “right to work” laws, teachers are not forced to be union members. This trend has certainly begun, as the NEA has recently lost 100,000 members. Of course, losing 100,000 bodies for the 3.2 million member powerhouse isn’t that big of a deal. But this news has certainly riled up the NEA, and rightfully so. Losing members means losing money — $27 million to be exact — and that’s money that can’t be used for staff benefits or to reelect Barack Obama.

2. Teachers can change their unions. Teachers can become more involved in union activities and voice their opinions in union decisions. Teachers can also try to change their unions’ structures by becoming more involved as leaders themselves. For example, teachers in Boston recognized that union rules, including the location and timing of union elections, made it difficult for teachers to vote. In response, they mounted a campaign for mail-in ballots called BTU votes that represented a huge step forward for teacher organizing and advocacy.

As evidence of these trends, new organizations have emerged to ensure teachers have a place at the policy table. Teach Plus and Educators 4 Excellence (E4E) are smaller, more streamlined “teacher voice” organizations. For example, Teach Plus empowers current classroom teachers to impact policy, growing from a network of 16 teachers to over 8,000 in just four years. E4E emphasizes grassroots organizing and mobilizes teachers to change policies at the school, district, and state levels.

These organizations don’t claim to speak for all teachers. Educators for Excellence uses a declaration of principles to recruit teachers in the “rational middle.” Teach Plus asks teachers to sign a pledge, but targets teachers who identify as “solutions-oriented.” Previous Teach Plus fellows have impacted policies such as removing “last in, first out” provisions and created staffing models to place the best teachers where they’re needed the most. These organizations only exist in a few cities. But for the teachers that participate, these organizations serve as an effective outlet for voicing their opinions in policy discussions.

As new organizations in the advocacy space, they could also work with the unions and challenge them to become more reform-minded. In Massachusetts, Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) President Paul Toner recognized that if the MTA didn’t act, reform would be done to them, not with them. As Toner mentioned in a 2010 campaign speech, “We have to be the architects of reform, rather than the subject of it.” The MTA took the lead in developing a new teacher evaluation system, taking into account student test scores, an idea that unions had traditionally opposed.

Don’t get me wrong, the unions are still powerful — and they aren’t going away any time soon. Unions still hold a monopoly in funding political organizations and securing valuable collective bargaining rights. But as for representing the interests of teachers in policy discussions, new organizations have emerged to involve teachers as leaders in reforming and creating policies that will change the profession. With this, they are challenging the unions to become more reform-minded, and incrementally improving the market for “teacher voice” in policy decisions.

To Jumpstart the Economy, Look to Our Youth

To Jumpstart the Economy, Look to Our Youth

by Gerald Chertavian

They say that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Nowadays, though, 6.7 million young adults in this country are out of school and at best marginally employed. And although the rhetoric on the campaign trail would make us think otherwise, our squandering of our most vital national resource is a far graver threat to our economy than outsourcing. The diminished standing of our workforce is undoubtedly more pernicious to this country than cheap labor abroad.

Businesses are no longer receiving the cost savings from outsourcing that they once did. Indeed, fewer than 300,000 jobs per year are projected to be lost to foreign competition in the years to come. What we do observe from employers leaving our shores, though, is a belief that foreign workers are more motivated and better prepared for the work, especially for entry level roles. An errant point of view has taken hold in the public and corporate spheres: that America’s young people, especially those who grew up on the wrong side of the Opportunity Divide, are not assets to our economy but liabilities, ill-suited for the work demanded of them and not worthy of investment.

Nothing could be further from the truth. At Year Up, our students — low income 18-24 year olds — come to us having already faced substantial obstacles in life. They are not in search of a handout; what they want most of all is the ability to take ownership of their own futures. All they ‘re looking for is an opportunity: a chance to learn the skills America’s employers are demanding and then prove just how smart and motivated they are.

Ky Smith was one of those students. When he enrolled at Year Up in Baltimore, he was out of school and working two restaurant jobs. Nowadays, he’s a full time IT Network Technician at Radio One. Last month, he stood on stage with President Clinton at the opening of the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting, and told an audience of policy makers, CEO’s, and thought leaders that he was now writing his own story, one not constrained by the zip code he was born in.

At Year Up, we have helped thousands of students rise from poverty into a professional career in a single year. It’s not a fluke — since 2000, we have scaled from 22 students in one city into a national organization with 1,500 students and 250 corporate partners. Our graduates earn an average of $15 per hour, or about $30,000 per year for those in salaried positions. Last year, a third party randomized control trial found that Year Up participants out-earned those in a control group by 30%.

Ky and the rest of Year Up’s 3,500 alumni are proving every day what our young adults are capable of when given the chance, and are living proof that the American Dream is still alive when we equip our young people with relevant training and connections to the professional world.

What’s more, these young adults are filling a real business need. Leading tech firms like LinkedIn, Salesforce and Microsoft, and leading financial institutions like State Street, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have come to rely on our interns as a pipeline of entry level talent that is smart, flexible, and motivated. Companies like these use our interns to fill positions that are in high demand, and that’s why they invest so heavily in their partnerships with us — in fact, corporate contributions cover more than half of our operating cost. When it comes to expanding opportunity, businesses and young adults are not the sources of the problem — they are a substantial part of the solution.

We as a country need to embrace that perspective, and fast. Over the next five years, those 6.7 million young adults will cost taxpayers $437 billion in public expenses and lost tax revenue, and over the course of their lifetime will have a negative $4.7 trillion impact on the economy. Meanwhile, by conservative estimates, American businesses are sitting on $1 trillion in cash and are unable to fill well over 3 million jobs. By the end of this decade, we will face a structural shortage of millions more skilled workers. Reversing these numbers can unleash a wave of prosperity that will power us through the next several decades and raise millions of people out of poverty.

Our goal should be to build the most highly skilled populace in the world, the kind that will fill jobs that cannot be outsourced and will keep America’s companies at the forefront of the global economy.

Investing in our youth is not just a matter of economic justice. It’s good business sense.

News Corp. Unveils Education Unit Amplify

News Corp. Unveils Education Unit Amplify

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp finally unveiled the brand and business of its 18-month old education division after spending the last year embroiled in the fallout from a phone hacking at its UK newspapers.

News Corp said on Monday the education unit will be called Amplify and will focus on kindergarten through high school, creating digital products and services for students, teachers and parents.

The unit is headed up by Joel Klein, former New York City schools chancellor, who joined the company in November 2010. Klein was deployed to oversee the far-reaching internal investigation into the hacking scandal seven months later, putting on hold the plans to fully move ahead with the education business.

Amplify is teaming up with AT&T Inc, using its 4G mobile tablet technology. They will begin to introduce new curriculum products through tests in U.S. schools during the 2012-2013 school year.

In November 2010, News Corp bought Brooklyn, New York-based Wireless Generation for about $300 million and will use its technology to provide educational analytics and formative assessment.

Murdoch, best known as a media and newspaper baron, has been an outspoken critic of structural weaknesses in U.S. public schools.

When News Corp splits into separate entertainment and news companies in the next year, the education business is expected to move into the news company alongside newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and Britain’s The Sun and the Dow Jones newswire service.

Klein, a former White House litigator, is widely seen as a likely candidate to take the top job at the new News Corp company, while Murdoch will remain as chairman.

In a post on Amplify’s website, Klein offers a preemptive strike against “skeptics” who do not think private companies should be involved in public education.

“The private sector should not drive teaching and learning innovations, but private-sector investment and involvement can (and should) accelerate such innovations in partnership with experts and educators in the field,” Klein writes. “There is no one sector-specific solution here.”