I deserve it, you don’t

The Boston Globe notes that the leaders of the Boston charter schools make a fair amount (the second compares to 13 charter school executives who make $160,000 or more):

The median pay package for the top leaders of the 16 charter schools in Boston was $170,000 last year, making most of them among the highest-paid public school officials in Boston, according to a Globe review of payroll data.

By contrast, three members of Chang’s Cabinet made more than $160,000 in 2016, according to a Globe review.

and their employees make a bit less:

The average earnings for charter-school teachers, guidance counselors, and other educators who work directly with students were roughly $55,000, according to the Globe review. Average pay for teachers in the Boston school system is about $90,000.

Now look at how the leaders talk about the pay of the leaders:

Charter school officials say the large compensation packages reflect the competitive market for top school leaders and the need for special talent.

Harris, in a brief phone interview, said his compensation package was well-earned and reflected the 42 years he spent in public education.

During her tenure, Lam oversaw the school’s relocation from Brighton to Dorchester, its expansion from an elementary school into a K-8 program, and the addition of high-profile programs like EL Sistema, a popular Venezuelan music education program.

“Diana’s unique talents and experience as an accomplished visionary were essential to establishing the school and were reflected in her compensation,” Gary F. Gut, chairman of the school’s trustees, said.

Benjamin Howe, chairman of the trustees at Excel Academy, said the salary the board set for its CEO, Owen Stearns, the third-highest earner, was fair and reasonable and in the best interests of Excel, which operates four campuses in East Boston and Chelsea.

And how they talk about the pay of the teachers:

Charter school leaders say they would like to pay teachers more but the state does not provide them enough money to cover facility costs, forcing them to make up the difference in their operating budgets. The teachers in the independent charters are not unionized.

“Everyone I know wants to hire great teachers and pay them as much as possible,” said Shannah Varon, executive director of Boston Collegiate Charter School, who also leads the Boston Charter School Alliance. “I don’t know of any executive director who is trying to pad their paychecks and in doing so is hiring teachers who are green or paying them less.”

Somehow they are able to find the extra money to pay the leaders but it’s impossible to find it for the teachers. You might be surprised to learn that the teachers aren’t unionized.

For fun, let’s look at the school Shannah Varon works for, Boston Collegiate Charter School. It has, according to its website, nearly 700 students and has 7 executives on the list of people who make more than $100,000 per year. The top 7 executives earnrd a total of $849, 298 with Shannah topping the list at $166,496. I’m curious why paying  the executives a lot doesn’t reduce the amount that could go towards the pay of the teachers.

Only Unions pressure anyone

It’s interesting how things work when people talk about issues where unions weigh in:

Perhaps she was honestly torn. As Michael Jonas pointed out in CommonWealth magazine, the Massachusetts senator is a longtime proponent of school choice. In her 2003 book, “The Two-Income Trap,” she endorsed a system of vouchers to support attendance at any public school.

But in a statement put out on Monday, Warren said that she will be voting no on Question 2. “Many charters schools are producing extraordinary results for our students and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers and spread what’s working to other schools,’’ she said. But, after hearing from both sides, “I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”

Warren can play an important role in this debate. I only hope her decision really is about equal opportunity for all and not about caving in to union pressure.

The writer, Joan Vennochi, says:

When it comes to Question 2, you can put me down as “conflicted.” This campaign pits suburbs against urban communities and unions against business groups that despise organized labor. All supposedly in the name of “the children.”

and yet nowhere does she seem to question anybody who is voting Yes on Question 2 even though its backers will be spending millions to push it. It’s interesting how that works.

Pay at charter schools

Ah, now I see where the money goes for charter schools:

Operators of New York City’s publicly financed, privately run charter schools are bracing for changes promised by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio — including the possibility of having to pay rent — that they worry could reverse 12 years of growth enjoyed under Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

De Blasio has pledged to charge rent to ‘‘well-resourced’’ charter schools and has called for a moratorium on allowing new charters to share buildings with traditional schools, taking aim at a Bloomberg policy that helped the schools grow from 17 to 183 during his time in office.

Critics note that more than a dozen of New York City charter school executives are paid more than New York City Schools chancellor Dennis Walcott’s $212,614. Harlem Village Academies chief Deborah Kenny earns $499,146. Eva Moskowitz, a founder of Success Academies, earns $475,244.

Oh and:

During the past two years, the DOE gave Moskowitz’s controversial chain, Success Academy, rent-free space in city school buildings to open 14 new co-location sites. In each handover, Moskowitz demanded the DOE deliver the space clear of furniture and broom-swept by 5 p.m. on the last day of the school year, according to sources and emails obtained by DNAinfo New York.

But since students used the space until the second-to-last day of the school year, the DOE was left with less than 36 hours to clear the area — costing the department tens of thousands of dollars in overtime from contracted workers scrambling to meet the onerous deadline.



US and charter schools

There are a couple of articles out on the education front. First, there’s another indication that public schools might be as good as private or charter schools. The piece starts with a  bit of a joke:

In a new book, “The Public School Advantage: Why Public Schools Outperform Private Schools,” they outline their findings and walk through the implications. The result may lead education reform advocates to rethink their policies—and parents to question one of their most important decisions.

Ha ha, see the joke is that education ‘reformers’ actually care about evidence (look here for one of many examples). Anyway, here’s their main conclusion:

We know that private school students tend to score higher than students in public schools. But we also know that these are different populations, and they have different selection criteria. So we looked at the demographics of the different students in these nationally representative data sets, and we found those demographics more than explain the student achievement patterns….We focused specifically on mathematics, because math achievement is a better reflection of the school effects rather than the other subjects, like reading, which are often reflective of what the students are learning at home….Once we actually delved into those achievement statistics, public schools turned out to be more effective. Public school students are outscoring their demographic counterparts in private schools…at a level that is comparable to a few weeks to several months.

and charter schools are doing a bit worse. Why?

Most people would say [charter schools are better] because they are not bound by all the rules and regulations that public schools are run by. But our research shows that autonomy can be a problem for independent schools, including charter schools. You would think that having that autonomy would be an opportunity to experiment with new and more effective pedagogical or curriculum approaches, for example, and I’m sure that happens in some cases. But what we found was many of these types of schools are actually using their autonomy to embrace outmoded or outdated curricular or instructional functions. What we think is happening is that…when they are faced with competitive pressures, they have to compete with other schools for students, so they often adopt a culture that parents feel is tried and true, and what they experienced when they were at school.

LUBIENSKI: A lot of public schools have embraced more state-of-the art approaches that have been really influenced and shaped by experts in the field; for example, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has recommended certain curricular approaches that reflect what we know about how students learn. It’s really apparent when you look at the teaching and the curriculum in the different types of classrooms. The other thing is that public schools have to work under some [legal] requirements, and one of those is they have to hire certified teachers. Teacher certification does make a difference. It’s a good predictor of student achievement.

LUBIENSKI: What we’re seeing is as competition increases in these areas, schools often take on strategies that might not always mean the best outcomes for students. A lot of them are taking resources out of the classroom and putting them more into things like marketing….Actually, schools are making some choices that are quite questionable.

Via M. Night Shyamalan (!) we hear the idea that US schools are doing ok for whites, but are pretty bad for minorities. Kevin Drum has a nice takeaway statement:

If you compare America’s white kids to those of most other countries—aggregating all the evidence, not just one or two data points—they do pretty well. Not spectacularly well, but pretty well. I think a fair observer would conclude that these kids were getting a pretty good education. Probably as good or better than most other countries in the world.

And that claim, even though it’s more modest, is important. It means that American education isn’t, either philosophically or foundationally, a disaster area. Nor is it in decline. For most American children, it works fine and it doesn’t need radical changes. Rather, there’s a small subset of American children who have been badly treated for centuries and continue to suffer from this. We do a lousy job of educating them, but it’s not because we don’t know how to educate. We’ve just never been willing to expend the (very substantial) effort it would take to help them catch up.

But what does that mean?

Lawrence Harmon does his usual today:

The report’s authors are respected analysts, not ideologues. They aren’t bashing Boston teachers or their union.

That’s his job:

But they are suggesting that the Boston Teachers Union needs to embrace some of the strategies of charter schools or risk obsolescence. And the city can’t afford to shower the union with dollars in exchange for common sense concessions such as tougher teacher evaluations, performance-based raises, and greater power for principals to hire the teachers that match the needs of the students.

Let’s see: it’s common sense to push for merit pay even though it doesn’t seem to help students and teachers don’t want it; there should be tougher teacher evaluations based on testing when testing might not measure what we want it to and yet are what is used to decide what students ‘need’:

For example, my colleagues Sean Corcoran, Andrew Beveridge, and I have found that which teachers you choose to reward or punish is largely dependent on your choice of outcome. We found that half of the “high-performing” teachers on high-stakes exams would not achieve the same rating on low-stakes audit exams. What’s more, gains on high-stakes state tests fade out much more quickly than gains on audit tests.

Moreover, as any parent knows, good teaching is about a lot more than increasing test scores. It’s also about shaping our kids into the kinds of people we want to live and work with. We often assume that a “good teacher” is equally effective at promoting all outcomes of schooling, even in the absence of evidence to support that point. When my colleague Tom DiPrete and I took up this question directly, what we found surprised us. Elementary school teachers who are good at improving students’ standardized test performance are not usually the same teachers who are most effective at improving kids’ non-academic skills like task persistence and interpersonal skills.  Again, which outcome we pick fundamentally changes which teachers we identify as high or low-performing.

If you actually know that charter schools have been found to be a bit worse than public schools this statement doesn’t mean quite what he thinks it does:

Charters schools may turn out to be as good at educating kids with limited English skills or learning disabilities as they are at improving the test scores of low-income students.

Race to the Top?

There’s a long article in the NY Times magazine about President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative and how it might affect teachers and their unions. It’s basic premise is that the problem is teacher unions and that charter schools and teacher evaluations will solve the problem.  Let’s look at part of the judging criteria:

Thus, the highest number of points — 138 of the 500-point scale that Duncan and his staff created for the Race — would be awarded based on a commitment to eliminate what teachers’ union leaders consider the most important protections enjoyed by their members: seniority-based compensation and permanent job security. To win the contest, the states had to present new laws, contracts and data systems making teachers individually responsible for what their students achieve, and demonstrating, for example, that budget-forced teacher layoffs will be based on the quality of the teacher, not simply on seniority. (Fifteen states, including New York and California, now operate under union-backed state laws mandating that seniority, or “last in/first out,” determines layoffs. These quality-blind layoffs could force a new generation of teachers, like those recruited by Teach for America, out of classrooms in the coming months.) To enable teacher evaluations, another 47 points would be allocated based on the quality of a state’s “data systems” for tracking student performance in all grades — which is a euphemism for the kind of full-bore testing regime that makes many parents and children cringe but that the reformers argue is necessary for any serious attempt to track not only student progress but also teacher effectiveness.

Another 40 points is based on charter schools. Here are a couple problems with this approach:

  • In Massachusetts, these need to be approved by teacher’s unions, so the state scored low and looks bad. And yet, Massachusetts has consistently been scoring at or near the top in national standardized tests so something is working. Should Massachusetts be forced to drastically change its approach when its approach seems to be working?
  • Charter schools have not been shown to be better, so why exactly should allowing more charter schools bring up your score? Here’s the short important summary (with italics added):

The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local  public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools. These findings underlie the parallel findings of significant state-by-state differences in charter school performance and in the national aggregate performance of charter schools. The policy challenge is how to deal constructively with varying levels of performance today and into the future.

If the focus of this award was to make states that are doing poorly improve, then one of the first two winners (Delaware and Tennessee) makes sense. Tennessee has consistently been at or near the bottom in terms of student achievement and so needs to make changes and needs help (Delaware is in the bottom third). But the fund is supposed to award states that have a plan that works to get all students a good education and here it’s obvious that Massachusetts has done better than most states, perhaps because of their strict rules for unions and charter schools (a reformer would, of course, say it’s in spite of this which is why I write it this way–really it would be very difficult to tell).

The article does the typical pretence at being even-handed in terms of charter schools:

Charter schools are not always better for children. Across the country many are performing badly. But when run well — as most in Harlem and New York’s other most-challenged communities appear to be — they can make a huge difference in a child’s life.

They then take a page to talk about how one charter school is better than an attached public school–gee, I wonder which side they believe (and really “when run well ..” is a stupid statement. The exact same thing could be said about public schools, but somehow never is.). Now go back to the above comparison: on average charter schools do slightly worse than public schools.

One of the interesting things is that a lot of rich people (Bill Gates for example), corporations (Google), and hedge funds are pushing for charter schools. It’s just assumed that their motives are pure, while teacher’s unions are working for the teachers not the students. Are they?

Wealthy investors and major banks have been making windfall profits by using a little-known federal tax break to finance new charter-school construction.

For a discussion of the problems with this project, go here.

Charter Schools and unions

The Boston Globe has some more teacher bashing. You expect to see it from an op-ed like this one, but it shouldn’t come in straight news.

First look at the op-ed:

The committee’s original legislation stipulated that all employees in schools targeted for turnaround efforts would have to reapply for their jobs. Those who weren’t rehired would be given paid time to improve their skills and find positions elsewhere.

The Senate version, however, now stipulates that employees can only be terminated for cause and gives them the right to have any such decision reviewed by an arbitrator.

Under the original bill, the superintendent or state education commissioner would have increased authority to force changes in the teachers’ contract in those schools. But the Senate version preserves that power only in the very worst schools. In the second-to-last tier, unions could take contract changes to binding arbitration.

Now, if one believes the top priority at failing schools is to protect faculty and staff jobs, then the Senate’s amendments make perfect sense. But if you think the fundamental purpose of schools is to educate students, then more dramatic change is called for when they fall short.

The teacher bashing here is explicit: teachers care more about their jobs than the kids. It also explicitly assumes that the way to fix schools is to change teachers and that superintendents only do what’s best for students. That’s especially interesting given the current climate. Does Scott Lehigh really not see that a superintendent would be under a lot of pressure to get rid of older/higher paid teachers even if they’re very good given the budget constraints right now? Does he not think they also might not get rid of teachers that disagree with them?

Still, I have no problem with this because it is his opinion and it’s stated as such.

Now, look at the straight news article:

When the Senate approved the bill after two days of intense debate last month, there was a widespread sense of optimism that it would provide the tools necessary to help children in urban schools that have long struggled with low test scores. The Senate sped through the approval so Massachusetts could meet a mid-January deadline to apply for federal stimulus money that will be distributed among states that have made significant steps to improve their worst schools.

But in the weeks since that vote, serious concerns have emerged that several of the last-minute amendments approved during the end-of-session marathon could make it nearly impossible to make any meaningful changes in struggling school districts.

Not only did the amended bill considerably weaken the powers that would be given to superintendents, but it also altered a provision that could have doubled the number of charter school seats in Boston, Lawrence, and other cities where the quality of public education has long been a concern.

This is no longer expressed as opinion, but fact. Changing the bill so teachers can only be let go for cause is now getting rid of a tool to help struggling schools. 

The idea that charter schools will do better is also presented as fact. The little problem is that a major study found that charter schools on average do worse (italics added)

The group portrait shows wide variation in performance. The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students. Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local  public school options and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their student would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools. These findings underlie the parallel findings of significant state-by-state differences in charter school performance and in the national aggregate performance of charter schools. The policy challenge is how to deal constructively with varying levels of performance today and into the future.

but that doesn’t seem to matter (charter schools in Massachusetts do better on average, but in other states this is not true). Ah well, can’t let facts get in the way.

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