School Lunch Fight

School Lunch Fight: Jon Stewart Takes On Battle
Over Michelle Obama’s Healthy School Meals

There’s been quite a bit of tension since First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack rolled out their new school lunch initiative for this school year. But Jon Stewart’s Thursday response to the dispute is likely the best we’ve seen yet.

The new federal requirements, the first major nutritional school meal overhaul in over 15 years, offer less sodium and trans fats, more whole grains and a broader selection of fruits and vegetables to the 32 million students who take part in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. The rules also place a calorie cap on lunches: 650 calories for elementary school lunches, 700 for middle schools and 850 for high schools.

That’s where students across the country are waging war against the first lady. Teens from Kansas to Wisconsin have staged protests against the new school lunches, launching Twitter campaigns, boycotting cafeteria meals and filming videos in hopes of bringing widespread attention to their cause: the new rules are too restrictive, leaving kids hungry. Growing adolescents, teens say, require more calories because they’re burning more through sports and other activities.

Stewart took to his Thursday opening bit with, “Newsflash! Children think school lunches suck!”

“Extree, extree, school lunches suck and the portions are too small!” Stewart continues. “And you want more of it.”

In response to student outcry, GOP lawmakers have introduced a bill, titled the “No Hungry Kids Act,” that would repeal the calorie maximums. Vilsack told ABC News this week hat students should opt for a snack if they’re hungry, and the administration is working with districts to create snack programs for active students.

The current regulations not only double the amount of fruits and vegetables served to students, but also permit children to get second servings of fruits and veggies.

“Like that counts as food!” Stewart mocks. “You know what we call fruits and vegetables at my school? Nerd grenades.”

Students are simultaneously throwing away twice as much food from school meals as they did last year, according to ABC News, and Kristi King, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells the network that the whole grain and fiber-robust new lunches should actually keep students fuller than before, “if they are actually consuming the whole product.”

“Now, I am obviously not a nutritionist or an educator, but if these kids are hungry, I guess my solution would be, ‘Eat your motherf—— lunch!'” Stewart says.

The latest guidelines come at a time when 17 percent — or 12.5 million — of America’s children aged 2-19 are obese, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Another 16 percent or so are overweight and at risk of becoming obese.

A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that more than a third of high school students were eating vegetables less than once a day — “considerably below” recommended levels of intake for a healthy lifestyle that supports weight management and could reduce risks for chronic diseases and some cancers.

Education Profiteering; Wall Street’s Next Big Thing?

Education Profiteering; Wall Street’s Next Big Thing?
by Jeff Faux

The end of the Chicago teachers’ strike was but a temporary regional truce in the civil war that plagues the nation’s public schools. There is no end in sight, in part because — as often happens in wartime — the conflict is increasingly being driven by profiteers.

The familiar media narrative tells us that this is a fight over how to improve our schools. On the one side are the self-styled reformers, who argue that the central problem with American K-12 education is low-quality teachers protected by their unions. Their solution is privatization, with its most common form being the privately run but publicly financed charter school. Because charter schools are mostly unregulated, nonunion and compete for students, their promoters claim they will, ipso facto, perform better than public schools.

On the other side are teachers and their unions who are cast as villains. The conventional plot line is that they resist change, blame poverty for their schools’ failings and protect their jobs and turf.

It is well known, although rarely acknowledged in the press, that the reform movement has been financed and led by the corporate class. For over twenty years large business oriented foundations, such as Gates (Microsoft), Walton (Wal-Mart) and Broad (Sun Life) have poured billions into charter school start-ups, sympathetic academics and pundits, media campaigns (including Hollywood movies) and sophisticated nurturing of the careers of privatization promoters who now dominate the education policy debate from local school boards to the US Department of Education.

In recent years, hedge fund operators, leverage-buy-out artists and investment bankers have joined the crusade. They finance schools, sit on the boards of their associations and the management companies that run them, and — most important — have made support of charter schools one of the criteria for campaign giving in the post-Citizens United era. Since most Republicans are already on board for privatization, the political pressure has been mostly directed at Democrats.

Thus, for example, when Andrew Cuomo wanted to get the support of hedge fund managers for his run for governor of New York, he was told to talk to Joe Williams, director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group set up to lobby liberals on privatization. Cuomo is now a champion of charter schools. As Joanne Barkan noted in a Dissent Magazine report, privatizers are even targeting school board elections, in one case spending over $630,000 to elect two members in a local school board race last year in Colorado.

Wall Street’s involvement in the charter school movement — when the media acknowledges it — is presented as an act of philanthropy. Perhaps, as critics claim, hedge funders are meddling in an area they know nothing about. But their motives are worthy. Indeed, since they send their own children to the best private schools, their concern for other people’s children seems remarkably altruistic. “Wall Street has always put its money where its interests of beliefs lie,” observed this New York Times article, “But it is far less common that so many financial heavyweights would adopt a social cause like charter schools and advance it with a laser like focus in the political realm.”

Yet, with the wide variety of social causes and charitable needs — poverty, health, housing, global warming, the arts, etc. — why would so many Wall Streeters focus laser-like on this particular issue? The Times suggest two answers. One is that the money managers are hard-nosed, data-driven investors “drawn to the business-like way in which many charter schools are run; their focus on results primarily measured by test scores.”

Twenty years ago, one might have reasonably believed that the private charter schools, which are managed to produce the numbers, would produce better outcomes — as measured by the numbers. But the overwhelming evidence is that they do not. The single most comprehensive study, by researchers at Stanford University, found that 17 percent of charter school students performed better than their public school counterparts, 46 percent no better and 37 percent worse. Stanford’s conclusions have been reinforced by virtually all of the serious research, including those at the University of California, the Economic Policy Institute and the policy research firm Mathematica.

Nor do charter schools seem more efficient. Those promoted as the most successful examples have been heavily subsidized by foundations and Wall Street donors. The film, Waiting for Superman that portrays a heroic charter school organizer fighting a selfish teachers union was widely hyped in the media — including popular TV shows like Oprah Winfrey’s. Yet, as Diane Ravitch, an assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush and a former charter school supporter turned critic, noted, the film neglected to report that the hero educator kicked out the entire first class of the school because their test scores were too low, that the school was heavily subsidized by the pro-reform foundations and that the hero took an annual salary of four hundred thousand dollars.

Neither do the data on international comparisons support either privatization in general or charter schools in particular. The foreign education systems that out score America’s are government-run, unionized, monopolies. Ravitch asks: “I look around the world and I don’t see any country doing this but us. Why is that?”

Good question. Although the data do not support the supposedly data-driven privatizers’ claims, their enthusiasm is undiminished. In response to an op-ed by Bill Gates that crudely misrepresented the statistics on school performance, education policy analyst Richard Rothstein observed: “It is remarkable that someone associated with technology and progress should have such a careless disregard for accuracy when it comes to the education policy in which he is now so deeply involved.”

The Times’ other guess about Wall Street’s motives was that hedge funders are attracted to the anti-union character of the charter schools. This is undoubtedly true; the attack on the pubic schools is clearly a part of the broad conservative campaign to discredit government.

Wall Street has always loathed the labor movement. And in the last decade it has had even more of a reason since corporate profits now depend more on cost cutting and less on the creation of new products. The Chief Finance Officer of JP Morgan reports that some 75% of the net increase in corporate profits between 2000 and 2007 — before the financial crash — was a result of cuts in workers’ wages and benefits. Given that unions are the only serious vehicles for resistance to the corporate low-wage strategy, Wall Street’s antipathy has become even stronger.

But today unions represent less than seven percent of private sector workers. And the influence of public sector unions on the bargaining position of workers in profit-making corporations is, certainly in the short run, negligible. So while hostility to unions plays a role, is it is not quite credible to believe that Wall Street profit maximizers would be spending so much of their time and money simply to beat up on a proxy for the private sector unions that they have already so beaten back.

As usual, when looking for what motivates capitalists in a market system, the answer is likely to have something to do with making money.

Having been rescued from the consequences of its own folly by the Bush/Obama bailouts with its de-regulated privileges intact, Wall Street is once more on the prowl for the new “big thing” — a new source of potential profits upon which to build the next lucrative asset bubble.
The landscape of the coming decade is not promising. Most forecasters see a near term future of slow growth, sluggish consumer spending and government retrenchment. Despite the Federal Reserve’s commitment to low interest rates there is little demand for equities, indicating widespread investor pessimism about the future. As Bill Gross, the founder of global investment giant Pimco, wrote in August, “Boomers can’t take risk. Gen X and Y believe in Facebook but not its stock. Gen Z has no money.”

The financial bubble of the 1990s was driven by new business start-ups exploiting technologies whose development had been subsidized by the taxpayers. The bubble of the 2000’s was built on the boom in subprime mortgages organized and subsidized by Federal housing programs. But with a virtual Washington consensus on cutting back public spending, investors have little expectation of new government money being poured into some dormant economic sector on a scale sufficient to generate widespread speculative excitement.

Education privatization would not, per se, create a net new stimulus for the economy. But by diverting large existing flows of money from the public to the private sector it would create new profit-making ventures that could be capitalized and transformed into stocks, derivatives and leveraged securities. The pot has been sweetened by a 39 percent federal tax credit for financing charter school construction that can double an investor’s return in seven years. The prospect of new speculative opportunities could well recharge the animal spirits upon which Wall Street depends.

Some “liberal” privatization promoters claim that charter schools should not be considered private. But that’s an argument the management companies that run the schools only use when they are asking for more government funding. At the same time they argue in courts and to legislatures that as private enterprises they should not be subject to government audits, labor laws and other restrictions.

These companies rent, buy, and sell buildings; make contracts for consulting, accounting and legal services, food concessions, and transportation; and pay their managers far more than public school principals earn. In cases where city governments have given land to charter schools, for profit real estate companies have ended up owning the subsidized land and buildings. In states where charter schools are required to be nonprofit, profit-making companies can still set them up and then organize a board of neighborhood residents who will give them the right to manage the school with little or no interference.

In 2008 Dennis Bakke, CEO of Imagine Schools, a private company that managed 71 schools in eleven states, sent an email to the firm’s senior staff. It reminded his managers not to give school boards the “misconception” that they were “responsible for making decisions about budget matters, school policies, hiring of the principal, and dozens of other matters.” The memo suggested that the community board members be required to sign undated letters of resignation. “It is our school, our money, and our risk,” he wrote, “not theirs.”

The potential for private profits from publicly funded education is not limited to K-12. Profit-making universities and vocational schools — increasingly substituting remote internet learning for classroom teachers — are among the fastest growing businesses in the country. The sector is rife with high-pressure sales tactics and shoddy training, which leaves students – many of them low-income — deeply in debt and no further up the job ladder. Most of their growth is financed by Federal aid and Federally guaranteed student loans.

“You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up,” Rob Lytle, an business consultant earlier this year told a meeting of private equity investors interested in for-profit education companies. According to Stephanie Simon of Reuters, who reported on the event, investment in for profit education has already jumped from $13 million in 2005 to $389 million in 2011. Among others, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase have created multimillion-dollar funds for education investments.

These “data-driven” investors are not so much interested in students’ scores, as in the opportunities to cut costs by using online technology. Ironically, while reformers insist their goal is to develop more skilled teachers, a goal of their financier allies is to get rid of them. The central question, says education entrepreneur John Katzman is “How do we use technology so that we require fewer qualified teachers?”

According to none other that Rupert Murdoch, the U.S. education industry represents a five hundred billion dollar opportunity for investors. In 2010, he hired prominent reformer Joel Klein from his post as chancellor of the New York City Department of Education to run Murdoch’s education technology company. A few months later the firm received a $2.7 million contract from the city.

Charter schools, for profit on-line universities and other forms of privatization may not in the end fulfill all the dreams of its Wall Street promoters. But there is clearly money to be made here. And where there is money to be made, we can be sure that there will be money to finance political campaigns, to support career ladders that move between government and business and to bribe the media into ignoring the data. So the war on public education will continue. All of course “for the sake of the children.”

Teach Responsibility — Teach History

Teach Responsibility — Teach History

by William E. White

We have reduced citizen responsibility to voting. You hear it often: “Responsible citizens vote.” So it is interesting that responsibility has become a key issue in this election and it is clear that when the candidates talk about responsibility, they are talking about more than voting. In his acceptance speech, President Obama spoke about the rewards of responsibility, of the “shared responsibility” of citizens, and reminded the crowd that Americans “insist on personal responsibility.” Governor Romney emphasizes the importance of “personal responsibility.”

Several years ago I had a conversation with a high school American history and government teacher. She had been teaching for many years, and was an outstanding teacher who followed the curriculum requirements of her state and community. As we talked, she expressed confidence that she had done a good job teaching her students about their rights. That’s what the curriculum called for. She lamented, however, that the curriculum did not require, nor had she done as good a job, teaching students about their responsibilities.

We should not be surprised by this. Much of the current political, cultural, and social debate in America is framed around questions of self-interest: “What’s in it for me?” We vote for the local, state, and federal candidates whom we believe will assure us the most freedom, the lowest taxes, the best security, and the government services we want. Where and what do we teach ourselves — where and what do we teach our children — about responsibility?

The Constitution describes our form of government and provides the framework that allows government to function. The Constitution does not, however, describe the roles and responsibilities of citizens in our republic. Where are the lessons of responsible citizenship? Where is the citizens’ manual? Civic responsibility is not innate. It must be learned, and so it must be taught. Family is important, but schools have to play a major role in teaching responsibility. And an essential key tool for teaching citizen responsibility in this nation must be American history.

American history teaches those lessons. American history is the stories of citizens meeting the challenges of their time to build the republic and preserve it for a new generation. History teaches us how individuals took the ideas and theories of Enlightenment philosophers and created a new relationship between citizens and their government. History tells the stories of the shared sacrifice of citizens — citizen soldiers, citizen workers, citizen families, citizen leaders — struggling to defend those ideals in times of crisis and war. History is replete with stories of citizens risking their lives and fortunes and sacred honor — on Lexington Green, at the Seneca Falls Convention, with the Bonus Army on the Mall in Washington, D.C., and in the streets of Birmingham — to secure liberty and equality for each other. These people — these citizens — were certainly more than just voters.

These stories remind us that responsible citizens are engaged in their communities every day. Responsible citizens collaborate. They find common ground and compromise. They form coalitions to accomplish the things that are most important to them. History reminds us that it is our responsibility as citizens to be informed — to educate ourselves and understand the issues. History reminds us that citizens with whom we disagree have strong ideas and opinions, and it is our responsibility to do our best to understand them.

Most importantly, American history reminds us that we all share important, fundamental ideals. We all believe passionately in individual freedom as well as the necessity for equality. We all believe in the ownership of private property and also understand that we must build together the communities, states, and the nation in which we live. We all believe in the rule of law, but we also understand that government cannot legislate ethics. When asked to describe ourselves we declare that we are a unified American people, but we celebrate our differences and proudly identify with our racial, ethnic, national, and religious heritage.

There is no context for these ideals without American history. If we truly expect to have a robust debate in this country about responsible citizenship, then we need to start with ourselves. Engaged citizens are educated, informed citizens — informed about the history and context of the issues of our day. Responsible adults model the habits we hope to instill in our children. Responsible adults teach by example and provide the foundational education our young people need. That includes fulfilling our own civic responsibilities, but it also means teaching American history in our schools and in our homes. These young people are our legacy — they are the future of a responsible republic. Will you do your part?

Teen nominated for homecoming court as joke; she gets last laugh

Teen nominated for homecoming court as joke; she gets last laugh

By Rene Lynch

You couldn’t sell Hollywood on Whitney Kropp’s story — the fairy tale ending sounds just too good to be true.

The teenager was treated like an outcast, a nobody, at Ogemaw Heights High School in West Branch, Mich. — so much so that some of the bullies thought it  would be funny to nominate her for homecoming court as a joke. But then the small farming community where Kropp lives caught wind of the mean-spirited prank.

Now Kropp is having the last laugh.

Businesses in her community have offered to give Kropp the night of her young life this Saturday when she goes to the homecoming dance. A restaurant is picking up the bill for dinner. A local photographer will memorialize the moment. Her hair, nails and makeup will be on the house, as will be her gown and heels. Someone is throwing in a tiara too.

Kropp’s story — detailed in the Detroit News, among other places — has touched hearts beyond West Branch. A Facebook page set up in her honor already has 56,000 “likes,” and she appeared on the “Today” show Tuesday morning to talk about the effects of bullying — and to offer encouragement to other victims.

Many who have heard of Kropp’s story told the Detroit News that they’ll be there on Friday night during the homecoming football game, sporting T-shirts and toting signs that say “Team Whitney.”

Whitney told the “Today” show that she’s been bullied for being “different.” Her black clothing and unusual hair colors set her apart in the rural community, according to the Detroit News.

Her mother described her daughter as guileless and softhearted, telling the paper: “She doesn’t have mean bone in her body.”

So, shortly after the school year began, Whitney was surprised — and thrilled — to learn that she had been nominated for the homecoming court.

“I never thought I would be part of it,” she said.

But then, someone told her it was part of a secret joke — and she was the punch line.

“Some kids thought it would be funny to put me in there as a joke, to make fun of me,” she told the “Today” show.

Her mother encouraged her to go to homecoming with her head held high. And that’s what she intends to do.

“I can prove everyone wrong,” she said, adding: “I’m not this joke that you guys thought of.”

Kropp said the incident has made her stronger than she ever believed, and the support has given her a much-needed boost of self-esteem.

Why We Need to Reduce College Tuition

Why We Need to Reduce College Tuition

by Dr. Carlos Campo

A recent edition of Newsweek features a photo of a half dozen coeds holding placards that ostensibly reflect their individual indebtedness, each of them staring into the camera with dour looks. The cover asks, “Is College a Lousy Investment?” a question that Americans are asking more and more these days. As has been well documented, college tuition has outpaced inflation for years, and the current (jaw-dropping) $1 trillion in student debt coupled with intense pressure from a variety of sources to reduce college costs has led most of us in the academy to consider ways to enhance affordability.

A number of institutions are starting by lowering tuition, reversing a trend that has seemed inexorable. Tuition pricing is something of an art and a science, with most undergraduate programs publishing a “sticker price,” and then offering discounts or scholarships to reduce that amount. The average tuition discount in the U.S. for undergraduate programs last year was about 40 percent, and research indicates that students and parents perceive greater value when institutions publish a higher tuition rate. A few schools have tried — like some car companies — to publish a lower, “sticker price” tuition and not offer any discounts, but these efforts, for the most part, have failed to attract more students. Gary Becker, the Nobel laureate economist, and Richard Posner, the federal judge and author, have recently argued that one solution to the tuition conundrum may be to allow public schools to charge a range of tuition prices — like private schools do — based on the family’s ability to pay. Posner cogently argues that “charging low tuition to everyone, as public colleges do for residents of the state in which the college or university is located, does not make economic sense; it merely provides windfalls to families willing and able to pay the full tuition.”

Institutions like Regent University are lowering tuition to increase access, respond to the economic realities of the day, and combat a trend that must be reversed for higher education to meet its goals in America. We must find creative ways to reduce educational costs, including the use of technology (by next fall, nearly all of our bachelor’s degree can be completed in three years if students take online courses to supplement the traditional on campus experience) and course redesign.

Online degree-completion programs and graduate programs, often seen as the “cash cows” of higher ed, rarely discount their prices much. Instead, they monitor national trends and respond to changes a bit like hoteliers wanting to stay competitive with an eye to the bottom line. Online for-profit colleges, which clearly see themselves as businesses first, are especially diligent in ascertaining “consumer price points” and adjusting tuition accordingly. Students should be wary and carefully analyze all costs of attendance, as some schools claim to have reduced tuition, but simply capture the lost revenue by increasing (sometimes carefully hidden) fees.

One thing is certain: tuition alone does not cover the cost of an excellent college education. Most public schools rely on state funding and private gifts to subsidize the cost of a student’s education. (A very few public schools, like the University of Virginia, have raised staggering sums of money, and provide most of their own funding. Only 5.6 percent of UVA’s funding comes from the state.) Private colleges instead rely on endowments and alumni gifts to help cover the cost of education. A few elite schools with endowments in excess of $1 billion can fully subsidize needy students and not suffer financially, with Harvard’s financial chief recently visiting their timber holdings in Brazil in hopes of expanding their $32 billion funding nest egg.

Most experts agree that the single factor that has driven tuition costs higher over the last two decades is increases in the number of staff, often fueled by co-curricular programs and dazzling campus amenities. While faculty salaries have risen only slightly, many colleges — competing with ferocity for the limited pool of eligible students — have taken on a country club culture, with valet parking, gourmet meals, dry cleaning and other “services.” In the days ahead, we are likely to see many institutions strip away these kinds of features, reduce costs, and focus more on their core missions. Higher tuition costs are surely driving students away, as reflected in a recent report that the total number of applicants to all British universities has fallen by 7.7 percent, largely due to tuition increases there.

Some worry that as institutions look to stay afloat during this tough economy, they will slash tuition, but overall quality may suffer. Class sizes are expanding at many schools. Academic advising departments may be streamlined. Professors, asked to do more with less, may become harried, or even apathetic. Some students are already lamenting that morale seems low on their campuses, with state budget cuts causing a wide range of dismal conditions, including program cutbacks and tuition hikes to make up for lost state revenue.

There is surely some irony in the etymology of the word “tuition,” which comes from an ancient word linked to “tutor” and means “guardianship” — likely linked to those who taught students, and then inevitably got paid for their work. What was once a guardian is now threatening to become an impediment. If a college degree is still the gateway to the middle class, we will all have to be innovative and intentional to ensure that the gate is not locked for many. Reducing tuition is a noble goal and is one of the primary ways to ensure that the dream of a college education be a reality for more Americans in the days ahead.

Do Scores Go Up When Teachers Return Bonuses?

Do Scores Go Up When Teachers Return Bonuses?


In Chicago, parents were fuming over a weeklong strike by teachers. Around the rest of the country, in the face of growing evidence that many U.S. students are falling behind, administrators have tried to devise different ways to motivate teachers.

Among the contentious issues is whether teachers should be held accountable for their students’ performance on standardized tests. Such efforts have produced enormous conflicts between school districts and teachers. In many parts of the country, administrators and teachers have fought one another to a standstill.

That’s where a novel social science study may have the potential to shift the conversation.

Economist John List at the University of Chicago recently conducted an unusual field experiment in Chicago Heights, a school district near Chicago. List and his colleagues found a struggling school district: Only 64 percent of students met minimum state requirements on achievement tests. Nearly all the kids qualified for free or reduced-price school lunches, a measure of straitened socio-economic conditions.

List and his colleagues, Roland G. Fryer, Steven Levitt and Sally Sadoff, divided 150 teachers into three groups. One group got no incentive; they just went about their school year as usual. A second group was promised a bonus if their students did well at math.

The third group is where the psychology came in: The teachers were given a bonus of $4,000 upfront — but it had a catch. If student math performance didn’t improve, teachers had to sign a contract promising to return some or all of the money.

Other U.S. studies have found limited evidence that traditional bonuses do much to shift student scores.

List said the idea of giving some teachers money upfront — with the threat of taking it away later — builds on a well-known psychological principle: “What we tried to capitalize on in this particular study was a concept called loss aversion,” he said. “Once we have something in our possession, we feel it would be really, really painful to have to give it up.”

Loss aversion has been shown to be a powerful motivator in many business settings, but List said this was the first rigorous test of the principle in an educational setting. The idea, he said, was that by giving teachers the money upfront, they might work harder to keep the money at the end of the year than they would if the money had been promised as a traditional bonus.

In line with earlier work, List and his colleagues found that students of teachers who received the traditional bonus performed no better than students of teachers who received no incentive at all. But List found that students of teachers who were given the bonus upfront showed significant improvement in math test scores.

“What we found is strong evidence in favor of loss aversion,” he said. “Teachers who were paid in advance and [were] asked to give the money back if their students did not perform — their [students’] test scores were actually out of the roof: two to three times higher than the gains of the teachers in the traditional bonus group.”

The difference in test scores produced by the incentive system was about the same as that detected in earlier studies that measured differences in student performance when kids were taught by great teachers rather than average teachers. Effectively, List said, the way the incentive was constructed turned average teachers into great teachers.

List said he thinks that the incentive system motivated teachers to be extra vigilant with underperforming students. If Johnny didn’t get a concept, a teacher stuck with Johnny — and the concept — until the kid got it.

There are several caveats to keep in mind before anyone can talk about implementing the bonus structure widely, List said. Among them: The study needs replication. It remains to be seen whether the gains in student performance are long-lasting, and whether the same increases in student performance can be found in subjects other than math.

List said future studies might also tweak the incentive system: Teachers may be asked to return the money for underperformance periodically, rather than all at once at the end of the year. Prior studies involving loss aversion have found that the technique is more effective when people feel the threat of periodic and regular losses.

But there’s another catch: List warned that the bonus system needed buy-in from teachers. Teaching isn’t like making widgets; it requires motivation and passion. If teachers feel they are being manipulated rather than encouraged to improve their performance, they could end up looking for other lines of work.


Should Teachers Be Allowed to Sell Their Lesson Plans?

Should Teachers Be Allowed to Sell Their Lesson Plans?

A Georgia kindergarten teacher has made more than $1 million selling her lesson plans online. Can U.S schools crowdsource their way to better student performance?

You won’t get rich as a teacher, right? That’s no longer true for a small but growing number of educators who are making big bucks selling their lesson plans online. On a peer-to-peer site called TeachersPayTeachers (TPT), Georgia kindergarten teacher Deanna Jump has earned more than $1 million selling lesson plans — with names like “Colorful Cats Math, Science and Literacy Fun!” — for about $9 a pop. Since the site launched in 2006, 26 teachers have each made more than $100,000 on TPT, which takes a 15% commission on most sales. In August, Jump became the first on TPT to reach $1 million. Her success has been aided by the thousands of followers of her personal blog who get notified each time she retails a new lesson. Another reason she thinks her stuff sells so well: “I’ve used it in my classroom,” says Jump, who just kicked off her 16th year of teaching. “I know it works.”

The film “Won’t Back Down” promotes the privatization of public schools

PARENTS “Won’t Back Down”

The film “Won’t Back Down” is backed by conservative billionaires Rupert Murdoch and Philip Anschtuz. The law portrayed in the movie, called parent trigger, claims to be about parent empowerment but actually promotes the privatization of public schools and blaming teachers for struggling schools. The movie claims to be ‘inspired by actual events’ but not a single school in the country has successfully used Parent Trigger.

‘Gangnam Style’

Hyun ‘Teddy’ Ko’s ‘Gangnam Style’: Murrieta Mesa High
School Teacher, PSY Lookalike, Has Awesome Moves

South Korean pop sensation PSY’s comeback with “Gangnam Style” has been nothing short of remarkable, as viral spoofs of his recent hit are taking the Internet by storm.

The best part: A lot of those parodies — like this one by the U.S. Naval Academy — are really good, and just as addicting as the original. So when we came across this high school teacher’s performance, we just couldn’t resist sharing. He even looks like PSY.

Mr. Ko is a teacher at Murrieta Mesa High School in California and took to the gym floor with this incredible performance to “Gangnam Style” for the school’s first pep rally of the year. From what we can gather on the school’s website, Hyun “Teddy” Ko teaches Geometry and Algebra I — wish your math teacher were this cool?

Check out his showstopper in the video above (there’s a raw version below). We think his moves could arguably rival PSY’s, and he definitely out-dances his backup — but comments on the YouTube video tell us that the cheerleaders only had that morning to rehearse, so we’ll cut them a little slack.

Ko has taught math for 11 years, is a graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles, and “his purpose on earth is to make sure all of his students receive incredibly awesome mathematics instruction.”

So, kids, take it from America’s very own PSY — or the California teacher who looks like him and has sweet steps — those who know math are cool.


Who Is Sabotaging Our Schools?

Who Is Sabotaging Our Schools?

by Larry Strauss

I had a friend, years ago, who interned for a now famous “investigative” TV reporter. The reporter was putting together a story about people freezing to death in their New York City apartments because their landlords had failed to fix broken furnaces and he asked all the interns to find as many such people as they could. My friend was ambitious and worked hard to find three. The reporter took the information, thanked him and promised him a successful career in the news business, and then said, “Now make sure they don’t get their heat fixed before we shoot.”

“He was being ironic,” I told my friend, “wasn’t he?”

My friend didn’t think so — though he wasn’t exactly sure what he was supposed to do to keep those people in the cold.

I was pretty sure it was meant as a joke — but now, after more than two decades as an urban public school teacher I find that differentiating irony from cynicism is almost never a sure thing.

And I wonder who benefits from a failing education system — and how far they are willing to go to maintain that failure.

Let me qualify that–so I don’t beg the question. The system is not failing all children and not all schools are failing most of their students. However, many inner-city schools are struggling and most of those students are not being well-served. There are external factors that influence this failure but since education may be the only hope for many of these children it is morally indefensible not to assume the burden of improving their education.

So who benefits from a failing education system?

At the top of the list would have to be those who can appropriate funding with the promise of ending that failure.

Not far behind them are those who wish to defund public education for whatever reason — lowering taxes, etc.

Other beneficiaries of inadequate schools:

Drug dealers whose customer base comes largely from the ignorant, the disenfranchised and disempowered unreached by public education

Prisons, public and private which get their customers from the same misery

Advertisers and their corporate clients who can more easily persuade consumers when they lack analytic thinking skills and cultural and scientific literacy

Industries that want a large pool of semi-educated workers who have no other employment options.

And yet none of the above interests has ever disrupted my class. None has ever failed to order me enough text books or complied with class-size averages by giving me a class of 25 followed by a class of 55.

No, it is those whose job is to support teachers who seem to be the saboteurs.

I remember when I thought that students were the great impediment to learning. All the baggage of their unstable lives, their short attention span that just keeps eroding, their relentless needs mixed up with their in ability to delay gratification. But I don’t believe that anymore. I’ve seen too many students overcome all those things. I’ve seen the miracle of their potential and what can happen if enough of us believe in them.

But nothing as important as counting their heads or bringing them to the office in the middle of class to fix their student records or making an announcement over the loud-speaker.

Our school once had an office tech who sent a student to my classroom to get another student — and on the office summons it said: “bring that green nail polish.” The same tech and her supervisor used to cook in the office and and fix each other’s hair sometimes. They once blew out the fuses and left us all in darkness the rest of the day when they plugged in the crock pot and the hair press at the same time.

And why should they believe that what goes on in any of our classrooms is worth respecting?
The larger system doesn’t.

It has so profoundly confused outcomes (students actually learning something meaningful and useful) with measurements (standardized tests). It warehouses students and expects them to learn. It provides us with badly written text books and curricula written by people who don’t know how to teach. It wastes money when it has a surplus, then increases class size and shortens the school year when the money is short.

This past year, the school district in which I attempt to teach each day slashed its budget in response to state funding cuts. As a result, one of the best teachers in my school–dedicated, talented, inspiring–was terminated. Over the summer another school in the same district was allowed to hire him back as a long-term substitute and them give him a contract, converting an allegedly necessary termination into a transfer. So now a teacher who had helped build a department and establish credibility and trust with students was shuffled around along with at least one other teacher (the one who was sent to take his place). The first day of school this fall another teacher showed up at our school. He had been bumped from his position at another school but without anywhere else to go in the district. He was still under contract and so the district sent him to us but with no certainty how long. By weeks end, our school was host to two other “pool teachers.” They are still with us. Our principal tries to find things for them to do. Meanwhile, there are classrooms in our city so overcrowded that children have to stand or sit on the floor while other classrooms sit empty with no teacher.

I would like to tell you that this an ironic joke. It has to be, right? The people running our schools cannot be that callous or that stupid–or that helpless to oppose the callousness and stupidity of the system.