Category Archives: Education

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Paul T. Hill on the Craft of Education

Last month, I discussed my invited commentary in Teachers College Record. In that article In a draft, I emphasized that teaching should be a craft:

The reasons for these failures are many. When the American workplace was desegregated along sex lines, the subsidy of cheap female labor that American K-12 schools had received disappeared. Teacher salaries have not kept up, and the low-to-mediocre pay society provides to teachers is answered in the quality of education that society receives in return. Teaching is no longer a woman’s profession – a feminine analog to the legal field – but an artisan craft – in which apprenticeship counts for more than theory. Teachers are not professional who are entrusted to work without supervision for the best interests of their clients. Rather, they are artisans – skilled laborers – who use practical expertise and learned talent to practice their craft

In a recent column in The Atlantic, Education scholar Paul T. Hill voices similar thoughts:

Public education struggles with two conflicting facts. First, public schools are small craft organizations that require close teamwork and constant adaptation to the unpredictable development of students. Second, they are government agencies always subject to constraints imposed through politics and legal processes.

In the more than half-century since Brown v. Board of Education, the second set of facts has dominated the first. Public schools have been subject to court orders about how particular students must be educated; federal and state regulations that dictate how money is used, students are grouped, and teachers work; and labor contracts that force schools to employ teachers who are poorly matched to the needs of students and the strengths of other teachers.

Dr. Hill is on the advisory board of the National Council of Teacher Quality and a distinguished fellow at the Hoover Institution. It’s cool to see my article (inadvertently) echo one of his thoughts!

Teachers Colleges, Teacher-Artisans, and Education Reform

Last month I published an invited commentary in Teachers College Record, a peer-reviewed education journal from Columbia University. The content will be familiar to readers of this blog — I mention the political economy of education reform, the federal-academic complex, and our failure to educate young people.

An except:

The reasons for these failures are many. When the American workplace was desegregated along sex lines, the subsidy of cheap female labor that American K-12 schools had received disappeared. Teacher salaries have not kept up, and the low-to-mediocre pay society provides to teachers is answered in the quality of education that society receives in return. Teaching is no longer a woman’s profession – a feminine analog to the legal field – but an artisan craft – in which apprenticeship counts for more than theory. Teachers are not professionals who are entrusted to work without supervision for the best interests of their clients. Rather, they are artisans – skilled laborers – who use practical expertise and learned talent to practice their craft

Additionally, safeguards that made sense when teaching was a profession that attracted high-quality workers do not make sense now that many see teaching as a back-up plan. Academic tenure, a reliance on teachers writing their own lesson plans, the absence of individual accountability, the lack of pay-for-performance or even piecemeal reward schemes, and other accouterments from the past are not appropriate for artisans even if they were once appropriate for professionals. Given the increasing importance of the knowledge economy, something has to give.

Teachers colleges should not change how they conduct research. They are already brilliant at that. Rather, teachers colleges need to change how they teach. They do not produce world-class professionals now, so little is lost by changing teaching methods. But nor do they produce world-class artisans, so much can be gained.

Read the whole thing.

The Money-Seekers

In the education reform debate, there are several dimensions of force, such as

  • Money, where the major players are Teachers and For-Profit Education Companies
  • Power, where the major players are States and Districts
  • Childcare, where the players are parents and employers

In the middle of all of these dimensions is the central actor of the education reform debate: teh federal-academic complex, that collection of bureaucrats, researchers, and scholars associated with the National Science Foundation, the Department of Education, and the National Institutes of Health.

Bruno Behrend has also been writing about education reform, and he has used the term the “government-education complex.” Initially I thought by this he was simply describing the federa-academic complex, but in a recent column he defined his term as thus:

The “Government Education Complex” is the interlocking set of interests that control the vast majority of American education dollars, education policy, and the steady increase in unnecessary education job creation. The explosion of spending, debt, and taxation we’ve witnessed in the last 25 years was used to fund the growth of this Complex.

The complex is made up not only of associations of administrators and teachers unions, but an interconnected network of bond dealers, builders, architects, law firms, textbook companies, and other service providers who profit off of the overproduction of service contracts, debt, public employment and bureaucracy. This interlocking network has played a role in funding the campaigns of 1000s of elected officials at all levels and in both parties.

In other words, Bruno uses the term “government-academic complex” to refer to all players who primary interest in extracting money from the education system.

Indeed, Bruno continues:

The vast sum of political money raised by the “Government Education Complex” is used to write legislation at the state level to grow the complex while protecting it from any competition. State school codes are written by and for the complex and its members, and passed by the political class whose campaigns they fund.

Bruno is providng an important service, popularizing the notion that a major function of the educational system is provide extra wealth (insurance, lifestyle, etc.) to politically powerful interest groups, such as teachers or textbook publishers.

Group Differences Visualized

Last week, John Derbyshire wrote an article on race relations that led to him being removed from the list of contributing writers for National Review Online. Mr. Derbyshire made a series of factual claims, which were correct, and then proceeded to interpret these factual claims to give specific advise on how an individual should comport himself of members of other races.

Derbyshire’s column was widely criticized, but I have found only two examples of pieces which criticized the his factual claims, as opposed to his advise in the face of those claims. One was the short piece “By His Own Standards,” by Jason Lee Steorts that I previously discussed.

A much better criticism was written by Noah Millman in his article for The American Conservative. Noah states:

I’m all for frank talk, and not hiding behind politically-correct shibboleths. But I’m not for lazy talk, and I’m not for talk that implies a complete lack of concern for the social costs of one’s views.

Noah is getting at a point about racial differences that I previously mentioned

People talk of differences in “averages,” but this is a misleading way to talk. The difference between the 50th percentile and the 53rd percentile in extroversion, for example, is likely to be barely noticeable.

Rather, average differences matter in the extremes.

Here is an example of that, courtesy of Razib Khan. Using one measure of verbal intelligence, the average differences between blacks and whites are very small. But in the extremes this leads to a major under-representation of blacks among the very intelligent:

This is in contrast to sexual differences in intelligence, which basically do not exist:

and also in contrast to educational differences in intelligence. The average intelligence of the highly educated is greatly different from the average intelligence of the non-highly educated. This also shows up in the extremes.

And in contrast to Jews, who are highly intelligent compared to other groups. The average intelligence of Jews is greatly different from the average intelligence of non-Jews. This also shows up in the extremes.

These charts were created from data in the General Social Survey, using the WORDSUM variable as a a rough-and-ready measure of verbal intelligence. There are much better measures available, but GSS has the advantage of having asked the question to very large numbers of people and being easily accessible from a web browser.

Everyone Realizes that Teachers Can’t Teach, and Don’t Care

My friend Mark Safranski used facebook to share this story: “At long last, Michelle Rhee’s funders revealed,” by Beth Hawkins. Michelle Rhee, the subject of Hawkin’s article, is the former Chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, and is despised by teachers unions for promoting accountability among teachers. Sine that time she has been active as a policy advocate for education reform.

The article by Beth Hawkins notes that Rhee’s “multi-million-dollar backers include top donors to the campaigns of both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, as well as foundations that back charter school proliferation, so-called parent-trigger laws and public-sector union reform. ” Ms. Hawkins notes this is obvious, preceding her statement with “Whatever you thought of Rhee five minutes ago, prepare to have it confirmed.”

The reason that this is obvious is that everyone knows that teachers don’t teach and that teachers don’t care. By “everyone,” I mean other stakeholders such are employers, state governments, the federal bureaucracy, the research community, and others. It is not surprising that these groups, after having been abused by bad teaching for decades, are trying to make things better.

If teachers actually taught effectively, employers would not be dedicated to reforming the educational system. They are attempting to reform the system because despite high unemployment, it is difficult to find employable workers in the United States.

If teachers actually cared, state and federal agencies would not be dedicated to reforming the educational system. They are attempting to reform the system because teachers lack empathy for other stakeholders who have political sway, and don’t even bother to cover up their poor performance.

Teachers are selfish, like others in the education reform debate, but unlike others they neither contribute to the greatness of our nation nor align themselves with the interests of others.

I am glad that individuals like Michele Rhee (whose own rhetoric is strongly pro-teacher) are out there fighting for education reform. I am glad that others are in the fight too, pushing back against teachers who can’t teach, and don’t care.

The CFR Report on Education Reform

I want to share some words on the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR’s) report on education reform. Like any report not supported by teachers, the CFR report notes, in so many words, that:

  • American schools do not educate young people effectively
  • American teachers do not understand how to do their jobs
  • Reforms which break the power of teachers are a necessary part of reforms

The first thing that should strike you about the report are the names on the cover.

Condoleeza Rice is the Republican Secretary of State during the Second Bush Administration. Joel Klein was the Department of Justice official who prosecuted “United States v. Microsoft” for President Clinton of the Democratic Party. He also served as Chancellor of New York City Schools for Mayor Bloomberg, an independent.

This is not a scientific or a technical report. It is not supposed to be. This report exists for three reasons:

  • That the CFR’s views on education are above partisan politics
  • To express empathy to other stakeholders that are suffering from the collapsed US public education system
  • To extend support to other stakeholders that are working with the federal-academic complex to rebuild the US public education system, which had been run into the ground by the teachers front organizations.

If teachers were successfully educating young people — if they had the empathy to know what is required of them and the ability to actually do it — it is unlikely this report would have been written. The CFR is reacting to a changing political environment where stakeholders (employers, states, and others) are bandwagoning along with the federal-academic complex to improve education in this country.

Educational Achivement in the Context of The Five Heartlands of the United States

My friend Mark Safranski asked that I read the “Council of Foreign Relations Independent Task Force Report No. 68: U.S. Education Reform and National Security,” chaired by Joel Klein and Condoleeza Rice, and directed by Julia Levy. Mark’s critical of the report, and I need to compose my thoughts on it. One graphic, however, struck me to comment on it:

Your very first thought reading this should be “We are doing terribly wherever blacks, hispanics, or Scotch-Irish are the dominant ethnic group.”

Here is the same map with the five heartlands of the United States (German, Hispanic, Black, British, and Scotch-Irish) highlighted:

Excepting the 2 non-contiguous states, there are 13 States “below average.” Of these 13, only Michigan, Oklahoma, and Nevada do not have a non-German plurality. Nevada and Oklahoma are contugous with the Hispanic heartland. Michigan goes without saying.

Interestingly, these five heartlands and the obvious ethnic implications of the map are not mentioned in the Council on Foreign Relations report!

The Enemies of the Federal-Academic Complex

The Federal-Academic Complex is that collection of bureaucrats and researchers that set the educational agenda in the United States. The Federal-Academic Complex does this through understanding the mechanics of education, while being empathetic to the concerns of educational stakeholders (such as parents and employers).

The Federal-Academic Complex has enemies of two classes. The first is composed of conservatives and Republicans who are generally hostile to public spending. One member of this class is Sen. Chuck Grassley, as I described previously. Conservative/Republican opposition to the Federal-Academic Complex is concentrated among an ideological minority in both movements, and I will not address it further in this post.

The second class of enemies is composed of teachers. Teachers and their front organizations (the NEA, the AFT, the NPTA, etc.) used to set the education agenda. Because teachers were unable to education children and were unable to act empathetically to others, they no longer do – that is the role of the Federal-Academic Complex.

An example to teacher hostility to the Federal-Academic Complex is this tweet by Diane Ravitch:

Tax breaks for rich Princeton, pennies for public colleges

Ravitch’s comment is in reaction to an article by Richard Vedder that notes successful universities are successful, in part, for their success in attracting alumni support and federal research grants.

Teachers unions and similar groups do not care how academia works. They simply want to demonize academia (a successful part of the American social fabric) to rescue their own position in public elementary, middle, and high schools (a failed part of the American social fabric).

How Academia Works

Professors, like most people, respond to the incentives of power, influence, and money.

The institution of tenure reduces uncertainty regarding money, and focuses the incentives on power and influence.

Power in academia comes from the number of bodies a professor has under him. These bodies might be apprentices (graduate students he advises), journeymen (post-docs who have a PhD and work at the lab, or staff researchers), or simple workers (lab technicians, etc).

Influence in academia comes from the extent to which one is successful in influencing one’s peers. This is typically measured in terms of influence scores, which are a product of how often the academic is cited, weighted by how important of a publication he is cited in.

The best route to both power and influence is to earn grant money. For example, consider a professor who receives grant money from a federal agency. Some of this money goes to equipment, but the majority goes to employing several graduate students to work on this large project. Likewise, with this funding, he and his team will be writing numerous articles using the latest techniques on very large data sets, and can be expected to quickly become influential in that area. Because these graduate students have him both as an employer and as an academic adviser, when they graduate with their own doctorates, they will be experts at creating ways to detect bad standardized tests (after all, it’s what they’ve been doing for years), in a few years his influence on their careers will be apparent, and they will likewise go about working on similar problems — citing him and each other as they go along.

Because both power and influence are social activities, people and location matter. Grant-funding agencies typical consider an individual’s prior work, and an institution’s prior history of receiving grant funds, in making distributions. An individual who has previously earned grant money and delivered what was promised is more likely to win a grant, all other things being equal, than a researcher who hasn’t. Likewise, an institution that has a history or providing the foundations for success (is it possible for the researcher to actually hire the projected number of assistants quickly? are research facilities available for the work to actually be conducted? etc). This is true whether the institution is quasi-federal, like the National Science Foundation, private, like the Gates Foundation, or private, such as a corporate sponsor.

Peer-reviewed attempt to be blind to the writer. Nonetheless, the editor and the reviewers are public, and the more one knows of their concerns (what are the important questions of the day? what issues must be taken as assumptions? etc.), the more successful one is likely to be. Access to other researchers, both on-site, through personal networks, and through travel to professional conferences, are thus critical.

The importance of location means there is a fierce competition to be a faculty at a large research institution. Bias in working with others in academia is as self-destructive as bias in taking clients in law or in any eat-what-you-kill situation, and you’re spending your time and resources on a luxury rather than a necessity. I’m sure there’s bias in both, but that bias would be most pronounced on those who have found a steady-but-dull existence at the bottom of the heap.

Racism is a disease of the poor. Political bigotry is a disease of the weak. Life is better at ‘big’ schools because you are learning from winners of the system who are focused on expanding their power and influence, instead of acting as tinpot dictators.

The Class War

My friend Mark Safranski of Zenpundit recently discussed class resentment in the context of education reform

The mostly lower middle class, status-anxiety rage against teacher’s unions has it’s root in being an obstacle to forcing teachers to accept second-class citizenship and artificially low standards of living for the benefit of every child except their own. A system that also depended on free-riding a national labor force sharply segregated by gender. That component of creaming a talent pool with limited options is never returning, no matter what happens to unions

Mark is right on several key points.

  • The Conflict between Parents and Teachers is most acute lower in the economy spectrum
  • The Conflict between Parents and Teachers is related to economic anxiety
  • Teachers will not willingly sacrifice their will being for the good of society
  • The Conflict between Parents and Teachers is partially a result of encouraging women to have careers beyond teaching.

Teachers formerly were the central actor of the educational system. That role has been taken & is being took over by the federal-academic complex. The proximate reasons for the collapse of the positions of teachers is that teachers do not understand how to educate children and their are not empathetic to other stakeholders.

The ultimate cause, however, has to do with the lobotomization of the teaching workforce in the United States. The historical pay scale for teachers way high enough to attract ambitious and educated workers because the economic system of the United States funneled women into teaching on the basis on non-cash rewards. While it would be possible to pay teachers like professionals, the integrated workforce means the cash cost of this would be quite high, and I doubt it will happen.

This lobotomy added a new stress to American families: it was now harder to find a good school. The same desegregation that lead to the collapse of the American teaching profession also allowed more mothers to leave the home, go to work, and use that extra income to purchase access to a better school district. Of course, other women did the same, which bid up the cost of good schools and lead to an increase in general misery. In a competitive market higher prices caused by greater demand should lead to better production. Unfortunately, the American teaching monopoly was already in a cycle of incompetence and lack of empathy, so such an improvement did not happen.

Like most economic stresses, the problems caused by the low quality of the American teaching workforce hit the working poor and lower middle class the hardest. The lumpenproletariat simply does not care about the quality of education, while the well-off spend a lower fraction of their incomes on securing a good school district. The anger felt by these against teachers — who are protected from evaluation by their employers and have summers off – is real, and it has material causes.

Teachers find themselves in a bad position. Their workforce quality is probably not high enough to become more competent or more empathetic. And as Mark mentions, they are not selfless, and don’t want to see themselves or their families hurt. Thus they fight the losing fight against all the forces in the world, and soon they themselves will leave the scene as a force capable of great things.