Marc Tucker, in his recent report, “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” made some strident observations about education reform in the United States, and after spending some time with it, I’d like to explore some of his proposals over the next few blog posts.

For those who haven’t had the opportunity to read the entire report, the Chalkboard team offered a summary in their recent Research Update. In short, Tucker is the head of the National Center on Education and the Economy, and crafted this report after a summit of various education ministers from around the globe. Commissioned by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the summit sought to investigate what the “best” nations were doing well in order to learn how to improve our beleaguered education system in the U.S.

This particular document drew some interesting conclusions—in fact, I found myself startled at some of Tucker’s claims. One was the ineffectiveness of charter schools as a means of true reform. Tucker feels that the gains made by charters are too sporadic and, ultimately, these schools are more prone to fail than succeed. I appreciated the insight since two of my children are educated in Portland charter schools.

What I surmised from Tucker’s observation is that charter advocates need to convince successful programs to replicate. A good charter school that has innovative curriculum does the world little service if it remains one school serving students via lottery. If it is a strong program, then it needs to be shared in educational circles to be replicated elsewhere, even in the traditional public school setting.

Also, advocates need to consider that every charter idea doesn’t necessarily equate to a better choice than the local public school. The educational reform community gets upset when a district doesn’t grant a charter to someone, but in earnest, I am glad they don’t. Having read several rejected proposals, I think Tucker’s admonition is sound—we need more caution before we turn anyone’s kids over to a program that has not been thoroughly vetted and may fail shortly after opening.

Another insight that I thought Tucker drove home effectively is that teachers need to accept a market presence in their compensation. Teachers have to get comfortable with the notion that certain instructors, because they get results, are going to get paid more. In my experience, one of the most deflating things about working in the public school system is when results don’t equate to better pay. If your students earn 4s and 5s on an AP exam, or your ELL student advances to mainstream classes, you barely get acknowledged. Tucker challenges the present conception of merit pay (both what is offered by reformers and by unions), essentially saying that those systems offer too little to draw in the best personnel. I think he’s correct—if you want the best people in this profession, you are going to have put greater financial incentives into the system than what is usually offered.

Whenever I have observed the merit pay conversation, it tends to get bogged down by two particular issues. On the one hand, unions typically want merit pay tied not to in-class success, but to teacher activities like additional student supervision or efforts to pursue professional development. This type of plan should be a non-starter, because the goal of merit pay is to reward performance with students, and heading to a weekend workshop should not cut it. But I have also seen some of the incentives that reformers want to offer for teaching some of the more challenging classes, and to be honest, small increments of $1,000 or $2,000 is not going to be enough to merit even very good teachers’ being willing to tackle some of the hardest classrooms. That amount is going to have to increase to really warrant teacher attention.

Which is where we face American problems: Hasn’t recent press derided teachers for having “gold-plated” benefits and salaries? In our political climate, is it realistic to expect that the nation will tolerate increased teacher pay? We are not Finland (a primary example Tucker uses), and the American public will not support tax rates at Finnish levels. To his credit, Tucker tries to explain how performance pay more aligned with the market will balance out budgets, in that with some teachers being paid more or less, the budget will “essentially” be the same. But I had trouble buying that argument, and I think that skeptics and unions alike will as well.

I’m curious to get your take on either angle presented above: Does it surprise you that Tucker came out as critical of the charter movement? Would our teaching population be able to accept major fluctuations in what teachers in the same building got paid? Would the public be okay with a six-figure teacher salary if they knew that teacher consistently succeeded with students?

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26 Responses to “A Teacher’s Thoughts on “Standing on the Shoulders of Giants” – Part 1”

  1. kona says:

    Good questions Shawn. You asked, “Would the public be okay with a six-figure teacher salary if they knew that teacher consistently succeeded with students?”

    No. Aren’t teachers now expected to “consistently succeed with students”?

  2. kona says:

    Charter schools as “a means of true reform”? I have always thought of charter schools as a choice, not necessarily as a means of reform.

  3. Shawn Daley says:


    To the first question (I will tackle the charter school one later) — yes, they are expected to succeed, and many do. Now when they fail, the public clamors that, like the private sector heads should roll. However, when they succeed beyond expectations (because let’s be honest, just passing is not the same as exceeding) the public claps and says “thank you” — unlike the private sector, where more profitable quarter earns a sizable bonus.
    This is where the discrepancy lies, and where being a “teacher” stays unattractive to many of the best and brightest.

    I think the point that Tucker is trying to drive home is that you can’t have it both ways — you can’t want to consistently punish teachers for not succeeding, but then you don’t reward them for succeeding. If you want a market-based structure, you really have to be ready to have a market-based structure.

    You can’t expect people to tackle this job anymore solely because they’re good people who are willing to earn less. That alone is not going to guarantee you a teaching work force that is going to move us ahead of our international competition. We may have deluded ourselves to thinking so. If you want a corps of excellent candidates that are going to ensure results, Tucker believes you have to great ready to compensate them better than what you’re presently doing.

    The entire debacle about how public sector employees made more than private was based entirely around what teachers earned, and I thought that was a cheap shot because by all market standards teachers are more educated than the average private sector employee but yet still under-earning compared to all others with similar educational pedigrees. It was not a fair comparison and those promoting it knew that, but it was a convenient way to make the public think that teachers are earning more than they deserve, when most educational researchers are saying that one of the reasons we are under-performing in schools is because we do not treat our teachers as the nations that are outperforming us.

    This said, as you allude and I concur, the American public would never tolerate it, because the position of teacher is supposed to earn little and make do — and we have a hard time seeing any public employee earning more than 100K.

    I will address the other concern on charters in a moment. Good to touch base with you again, Kona.

    • jtabshy says:

      You bring up some very intriguing questions. Not knowing too much about the background of Tucker’s argument, I would say that it is not too surprising that he was critical of the charter school movement. I worked in a charter school last year as a para-educator. I believe that charter schools have their place in the educational system and that they can offer educational opportunities to students that your average public school does not currently offer. That being said, I agree with your (and Tucker’s) assertion that we should put applications for charters through a more rigorous screening process. Granting charters merely for the sake of reform is in a sense counterproductive. There are some very innovative and cutting edge educational opportunities out there in charter schools, but as you pointed out, they harbor their successes within their own schools instead of replicating their successes in other programs. I am curious if you have any insight into why that is? I know there are efforts out there to replicate some of the successful charter school programs, however, it seems these efforts are for the most part a one-sided effort, with the successful program being uncooperative.

      • kona says:


        You seem to suggest that all teachers (good, average and poor) should be compensated and evaluated to the same grade. Is that correct? Are you suggesting that it is too difficult to measure teacher performance?

  4. Shawn,

    I will be honest first. I have not read Tuckers article, as I have too much school work to do, so take what I have to say with a grain of salt.

    Let us perform a thought experiment.

    Let’s pretend I get a job teaching math to 9th grade students at some school. Let’s further pretend that I am successful at this job, and show significant gains in student achievement for the students who have worked in my classrooms. In fact, I do so well that the students I teach are perfectly prepared for their 10th grade math classes.

    Let’s also assume that Citizen X gets a job teaching 9th grade math at the same high school as me. Only, Citizen X fails at producing results which are equivalent to mine. Because I have succeeded, I receive larger compensation for the work I helped my students do.

    Fast forward to the next school year. Citizen Y and Citizen Z serve as 10th grade math teachers. Lets assume that Citizen Y gets mostly my students, where as Citizen Z gets mostly students from the other class. Because my students were better prepared, they are more adept at handling the 10th grade curriculum, and thus show better gains than the other students.

    Therefor, Citizen Y produces stronger students, and the pay will reflect that.

    Now… What happens if I exit the school system? Then we find that Y and Z produce equal results with their students. The success of Y was logically less of a result of their teaching habit, and more of a result of my teaching the previous year. Yet compensation wise, this is not evident.

    A student’s success is not defined solely by a teacher, but rather by the sum of all educators involved in that students upbringing. So why should one teacher be compensated more or less based on the “roll of dice” that played into what students were delivered to him/her?

    See Also:

    –Now, lets do another thought experiment.

    Lets assume that I am still a fantastic teacher, and my students succeed in 9th grade, and again in 10th grade, and on up through high school. Because the students have been successful on a regular basis (maybe because of one teacher, maybe because of a handful of teachers), the school becomes more and more recognized as churning out students with High Marks in all categories.

    Suddenly, the school I am working at is getting grip loads of money poured into it (money pulled from less fortunate schools…but that is another side of the story). The general public sees the success of our school, and decides that my school is where there children should go.

    Two things happen:

    class sizes swell, until I am no longer able to be an effective teacher.


    competition to get into my school is introduced, and the school is forced into a Lottery System. Argue what you may…but a Lottery System is flawed. I have no doubt that it will favor “the well off” population, because they can make “encouraging endowments.”

    When a student is able to choose where they want to go to school, the equality that should exist in education falls apart, and we start to embrace a system that increases class divide.

    One last thing, for your viewing pleasure.

    -Thanks for sharing,

  5. kona says:

    You said, “However, when they (teachers) succeed beyond expectations (because let’s be honest, just passing is not the same as exceeding) the public claps and says “thank you” — unlike the private sector, where more profitable quarter earns a sizable bonus”.

    Isn’t there an effort to pay for performance that is being opposed by almost all teachers and their unions? It seems that the effort the give teaching “bonuses” are opposed at every effort. I believe this is a throwback to the basic union belief that everyone should get compensated the equally regardless of effectiveness and abilities.

    You seem to suggest there should be differential compensation based on effectiveness. Is that a correct inference?

    • Shawn Daley says:


      No, you’re right, many unions do oppose most versions of merit pay, and I am not supportive of the blanket dismissal they usually offer. I agree with Tucker that unions have to come to grips with the notion that to get better teachers, they’re going to have to accept the notion of differential compensation (so you inferred correctly). My point of contention was that I am unsure that if the unions went along with it, that anyone else would accept it.

      So if I can pose this to you — assuming (although I’ll admit it’s unlikely) that a statewide union went along with it, do you think the public would accept a cadre of teachers (we’re talking the best of the best) getting paid a much higher salary than they are making now?

  6. kona says:


    Thank you for posing the situation.

    You asked, “do you think the public would accept a cadre of teachers (we’re talking the best of the best) getting paid a much higher salary than they are making now?”

    Yes, I think that differential compensation would be accepted by the public. Do I think that the education unions would accept the proposal? Without a doubt, they would not accept the proposal. It goes against one of the primary principles of unions. Union employees shall be compensated equally, whether “good” or “poor”.

    The sticking point (as you are aware) is putting a quantitative value on a qualitative teacher effort.

  7. Shawn Daley says:


    I think you have more faith in the general public than I have experienced, as I don’t believe a society that is as rampant as we are with tax-payer rights organizers would accept too many public employees earning more than they already do.

    But that said, I’m willing to concede on the union point (how’s that for a change). I don’t see enough movement in the unions — although there are union members who would prefer equitable compensation to the current equal pay conversation.

    On the last element — I actually think that putting that quantitative value would be easier than most people believe — I just think that so far you’ve had dueling proposals from unions and reformers as opposed to an earnest thought-out plan. I was a little disappointed that Tucker didn’t generate something more in this report, although, to be fair, it is only a portion of what he eventually will submit.
    (I will get to the charter school issue shortly)

  8. kona says:

    One of the sticking points in differential compensation is whether, or not, it would be a “zero-sum” situation. The union would want the baseline compensation to be what is now offered with the bonus going to exceptional teachers (that would be if they would break one of their domineering principles, which they won’t). The public would want a “zero-sum” game with exceptional teachers compensated higher while “poor” teachers compensated less.

  9. Shawn Daley says:

    To Kona’s 7:46pm comment; I think a year ago when we debated last, I asked what’s fair for teacher compensation, in terms of a hard figure. I don’t think I’ve still gotten a reply on that one. The reason I make that point is that what would be wrong with maintaining the base (without a yearly increase as currently maintained) and then crafting that bonus. I do think we have to start discussing figures otherwise we continue to have this ongoing debate about “amounts” without putting numbers into play. I don’t think anyone has ever told me what is a “fair market value” for a good teacher. We just get to hear that they get paid “too much.”

    The other thing we have to take into account is the amount of money that a teacher puts into their education — we expect teachers to put up that money on their own dime and then they go on to serve the public while paying off what are becoming really large loans. Now, if you want less educated teachers, then we can hack at teacher preparation requirements so it takes less time and costs them less money, but I don’t think that’s what you want. Just throwing warm bodies into classrooms usually doesn’t work.

    I sort of get the impression that you want this group of people, who spend 5-6 years getting their B.A. and M.A., to simply do their job for the nobility of it, and take less pay than similarly educated peers to boot. I don’t know other professions in our market-based economy that would do that….

    • kona says:


      You are misinterpreting my comments on teacher compensation (you are not the first).

      You said, “I sort of get the impression that you want this group of people, who spend 5-6 years getting their B.A. and M.A., to simply do their job for the nobility of it, and take less pay than similarly educated peers to boot. I don’t know other professions in our market-based economy that would do that….”

      Quite to the contrary, I have members in my immediate family (several in extended family) who fit into your description. This has zero to do with “what I want”. It has everything to do with the education economy in Oregon and how the economics of Oregon education have dictated available education opportunities.

      “Fair” value is addressed in a recent comment above.

  10. Shawn Daley says:

    For Roger-

    I think that’s an interesting argument to pose, but it relies on the supposition that I don’t know my students at an administrative level. We have enough tracking data to be able to see where kids are at in terms of academic achievement to measure the gains a teacher is able to make with them.

    For example, were I an English teacher, I know what scores my students had on OAKS tests, and if I am charged with helping them specifically with writing and reading, then how they fare at year’s end can generally be measured (with the proviso that there will be a few outliers). If you then look at this scenario, whereby my starting and ending point is gauged, by class, then it doesn’t matter who was before or after me because we have enough metrics to measure each individual year (if we chose to do so).

    We also could track students more effectively (although this can be considered a third rail conversation). We try hard in many places to diversify the classroom, but in some instances it would make more sense to divide up a bit more by ability so that a teacher and focusing on optimizing that group’s instruction at their precise level. You may have to cut electives so that it was easier to schedule, but with budgets getting slashed as is, maybe we are closer to that option than we’d imagine.
    There was a time that making a class list was not \a role of the dice\ (elementary teachers divvy up students very methodically still to this day), and we could go back to a system by which it was more specifically attuned to student aptitude and teacher ability with that aptitude.

    The best teachers, when proficient and so dedicated, can make up lost ground, and tests can prove that. We don’t have enough measures in place currently to do this (there isn’t a test in Social Studies, per se, although I’m in favor of one), but with work, we can develop those in order to prove teacher effectiveness.

    Now the part about a school being a victim of its own success is an issue — it seems like many districts though are on the verge of halting this transfer process (such as Portland Public, which is trying to clamp down on having one high school have 1800 students and others have 600 in similar sized buildings). That would have to rectified before you could operate a true merit system.

    Although, I would say, that one thing we need to be more honest about as a teacher community is who we are good at teaching. We have to be up front that certain people are excellent at ELL and others good at AP and we have to honor all varieties across the spectrum so that all people feel pride in their work. We don’t do this enough presently. Part and parcel to that though is that individual teachers are not highlighted — they are lumped into a \failing school\ or a \great school\ — and that’s not fair since there are some terrible teachers at good schools and some amazing ones at the struggling buildings. Because we don’t highlight individual success (it’s often pooh-poohed, as Kona would probably attest, by the union herd mentality), we don’t get to see those teacher’s methods on display enough to learn about all of the successes.

    Make no mistake, as the back and forth could confirm, offered a market-based version of merit pay would not be something we could arrive at easily or without some significant input from all who would be invested.

  11. Shawn Daley says:


    I’m addressing comments from both posts here to be fair to Sen. Hass’ space to respond.

    First, thank you for providing the stats (and from the NEA, no less). I knew you had them so I appreciate your posting them. We do compensate better than many other states. I can attest that as a teacher I had an excellent benefits package (that I miss).

    But, that aside, I guess that leaves us at an interesting place. If you believe in market-valued jobs, than having higher compensation is good because you’re going to attract better teachers. If you want us to settle behind many other states, then our best and brightest (and youngest, maybe most innovative) are going to leave Oregon for greener pastures. My best student teachers, coincidentally, are going to teach in Alaska and California.

    It would seem to me then, to make yet another concession to you, that at that salary that teachers should be willing to work more days up to what would be up to the national average of 180 (we hover at 165, admittedly, one of the lowest), if not slightly more, to be aligned with our national ranking. I think that’s a fair place to be, and I’d support you in making that argument.

    But to go back to what Tucker was arguing (the theme of the post)– you (as a member of the public, aware of economic realities, not because of a personal grudge – sorry if I implied that), seem to have earnest trouble with teachers making that compensation package of 72K. Since what Tucker is saying is that the solution is to have some teachers who could make alot more than 72K, it would seem to affirm my contention that the American public would never accept teachers earning six-figure salaries, which is where I found Tucker’s proposal to be faulty.

    Open invite for coffee at CU, by the way.

  12. kona says:


    1) If it were more convenient for me, I would definitely take you up on your offer at CU. Not many things better than taking a break on a college campus without the obligation of writing a term paper. A strange admission on my part is that I have yet to have my first cup of coffee (no real reason … I like the smell of coffee, but that first taste when I was seven stuck with me).

    2) You said, “If you want us to settle behind many other states, then our best and brightest (and youngest, maybe most innovative) are going to leave Oregon for greener pastures. My best student teachers, coincidentally, are going to teach in Alaska and California.”

    Really, this has nothing to do “with what I want”. My focus is that Oregon has priced itself out of smaller class sizes and longer school years. We have quite a margin in costs before we reach the median state in teacher compensation. If Oregon were to compensate equal to the median state we could hire 3,000 additional teachers. When reading this, remember that we are below the median state in per capita income.

    If it were my call (and revenue available), I would compensate teachers considerably more and hire as many as needed to reduce class sizes. But, it is not my call and the revenue is not available.

    P.S. Teaching in California is no bargain compared to Oregon. Their system has many major problems.

    3) I agree with you when you write, “it would seem to affirm my contention that the American public would never accept teachers earning six-figure salaries ….”. Wish it were possible, but it is not going to happen (for many reasons).

  13. Steve Buel says:

    Shawn and Kona, you might like to go to Youtube and look at Diane Ravitch’s talk on teacher compensation and charter schools. She really debunks both ideas.

    Lots of reading in social psychology studies, much more accurate and valuable than the flawed educational studies which pass for scientific research but are not, states that extra compensation for decently compensated people in professions such as teaching have no effect on improvement. Does an artist paint better once he or she reaches a certain level because you pay him or her more? Don’t be foolish.

    So I disagree with the idea that teachers need to get used to the idea that teachers who “perform” better should make more money. Most teaching is immeasurable in a numerical sense. For one thing teachers teach different subjects and different kids. For the other thing the measurements which the reform movement professes to use or to be used are FLAWED BIG TIME. So tell me how to go about it in a fair way which I can’t tear to pieces and I will be happy to admit I am wrong.
    But 40+ years of teaching says I am not.

    • Shawn Daley says:


      I think that Marc Tucker utilized Ravitch at several points for his arguments, as his contention is that charter schools aren’t “the” answer (which I don’t believe I advocated, although again, my kids both attend charters). Even Ravitch though contends that some charters work, and I think that if charters are to survive, those that do succeed have to replicate their methodology for the good of the entire educational community.

      With the piece on compensation, I’m going to challenge you though, Steve. In my time in a public school, which admittedly wasn’t as long as yours (but longer than a Teach for America stint), I watched too many teachers settle into the “this is just a job” mentality (and used that phrase). Some colleagues would go so far as to ask why I worked so hard because it only was “a job.” I would like to attest that more were of the mind that this was a true “vocation” where they taught to their fullest potential all the time, but honestly, so many were going through the motions that it grew deflating to watch. More people (my students now) I speak to had “this” teacher than a teacher that really captured their imagination

      Now I am able to agree with Ravitch that there is more to a classroom’s success than teaching alone (I know that SES can play a pivotal role in how a student gets through school). At the same time, I respect the profession enough to know that a teacher can play a critical role with kids, and our international competitors, that Tucker references, recognize this more than we do. I don’t think enough teachers take enough stock in this reality, and allow themselves to settle with so-so performances or shrug their shoulders and blame the kids (SES does play a role, but we can’t enter the classroom defeatist, can we?).

      As for the compensation piece, Tucker agrees with your notion — the slight increase for performance alone is not going to work — which is why what he proposes is much more radical than the extra bucks here and there for a good class taught. But his angle isn’t necessarily aimed at the present crop of people in schools – it’s aimed at attracting better candidates from the get-go. His work references how those who consider teaching and may be optimal candidates turn away primarily because of the relatively (Kona would disagree) poor compensation, and this wouldn’t be permitted in other countries. There is something to be said about how our nation, which does use finances as a barometer of social worth, paying its teachers so little comparative to the rest of the world.

      I can agree that many of the measures that reformers tend to use are flawed, but I also think that your dismissal of measurement is too quick. As I responded to Roger earlier, that is predicated on a older methodology that doesn’t employ any data with how schools operate. We know a great deal more about our students now than we ever did before when they walk in the door. Schools don’t utilize that data enough however, and teachers do not differentiate their instruction to address specific students thoughtfully when they could/should (I can’t begin to recount the number of 80 minute lectures I have watched in the past few years). What if we actually took part of August to actually get to understand who was in our rooms (since ESIS usually updates on August 1, right) before we arrived at orientation and were “surprised” by our class list. What if we actually really looked at what groups of kids that teachers were strong at teaching, instead of allowing the 30 year veteran to keep teaching the AP classes because that’s tradition (which it seems to be in many schools)?

      Also, the idea that we teach different subjects by itself shouldn’t bar us from measurement — we all have national and statewide organizations that illuminate standards for teaching — if teachers wanted to they could craft a series of measures per subject that would work. Usually though, Steve, veteran teachers throw up their hands and say “it can’t be done” without actually explaining why not.

      I do have a hard time being called “foolish” about what information I use when you don’t quote anything beside a Diane Ravitch YouTube (I think her recent book would be a better starting point; it was excellent). I offer this to only encourage you — I can think of plenty of flawed social psychology studies that were considered gospel — can you provide our readers with some materials from the “lots” you reference that they could use to sort out the facts? Having read your work with PPS before, I know you have them at your disposal, and I think the Chalkboard community would love to see them.

      Thanks for posting.

  14. kona says:

    Thank you Steve. I have always thought of Diane Ravitch as a voice of reason. The question I have is, “Are the educators/unions who are against charter schools, testing and teacher/school evaluation offering solutions?” I hear the chant that we can’t have this (or that), but I don’t hear the direction that we should be taking. It leaves one to think that these educators/unions endorse the status quo (how are we doing?).

    You said, “extra compensation for decently compensated people in professions such as teaching have no effect on improvement”. You have endorsed one of my primary contentions that the relatively high Oregon K-12 compensation has not helped our education system. We could be more productive with 3,000-5,000 more teachers and at least an average length of school year, rather than our present short school year, large class sizes, deferred maintenance and relatively high compensation. Oregon has negotiated itself into educational limitations.

  15. Steve Buel says:


    No, the teacher’s unions haven’t really offered solutions. But it is also not their job. I think one of the most important things to think about is that teachers and the teacher union are not the same thing. The unions are a subset of the teachers. Their delegated job is to take the side of teachers in teacher things like compensation, benefits, discipline etc. In this they have done a great job of course. Oregon certainly has decent compensation, benefits, retirement and must be fair when evaluating and firing, almost too fair.

    There is no broad teacher organization whose job it is to make suggestions for the school systems. But there are lots of subset organizations which make lots of suggestions to improve education, i.e. science teacher organizations, library organizations (Portland has one), teachers of English etc. These organizations have made lots and lots of suggestions to improve education both nationally and in Oregon. For instance, for a long time the science teachers of Oregon had a marvelous organization which had made many improvements in Oregon’s science programs. Also, most teachers who I know have worked their entire lives to improve the way they teach and the totality of these improvements have immensely impacted education in a positive way.

    What happened to the teacher unions is that they became political and very powerful in Oregon. This meant that the teacher things would be advanced. To a certain degree this also meant that much money went to teachers that could have gone more directly into the classrooms and the schools. The argument is a two edged sword however. People want to argue that teachers are critically important, but at the same time argue they are too highly compensated. Hard to have it both ways. I don’t know how old you are but there was an old saying back in the sixties thatit would be a better world if schools had the money they needed and the army would have to hold a bakesale to buy a bomber. There is some real truth in that with us fighting in Afganistan and paying mercenaries to work in Iraq, stationing thousands of troops in Europe, and giving tax breaks to multimillionaires. So I don’t see the teacher compensation argument as an “either or” one.

    The main problem right now with education, which are pretty much by the way central to poorer schools and lower middle class schools, is that there has been too much, not too little, influence coming from governments (including Obama and now Kitzhaber) and huge corporations and their leaders (ie Bill Gates) which have caused schools to move in directions which don’t make sense. These huge influences get the attention and the money, but generally create worse problems not better. High stakes testing is the primary example as is the reliance on believing educational research has real validity for educaion itself (as opposed to just helping create higher test scores). Another major problem — not recognized by many people outside of education — is the focus on adults instead of things which directly affect children. Maybe you read my op-ed piece in The Oregonian on this. Teachers need more autonomy to be successful, not less, which is where the direction is now going. What needs to take place is a recognition of the negativity in education which these things are encouraging and we need a move to focus back on things which directly affect children.

    In a way, this is asking for a return to the U.S. education system which was considered the best in the world forty years ago. The problem this system had though was a failure to take into account the individual problems of children which is a necessary factor that needs to be added. Get back to real education and add the social aspect of helping children deal with their problems outside the classroom at the same time. All the reform movements in the world won’t address either of these solutions. For, this has to happen district by district, school by school, classroom by classroom, and student by student. This also focuses us back on the education of the individual student and asks them to accept the responsibility for doing well. Something which is direly missing today. And, with the over emphasis on teachers themselves gets diluted big time.

    Huge numbers of teachers have opposed the testing and the reform movement, not out of worry for themselves, but out of their lifelong concern for children and for education in general. But the corporations making money, the non-profit (except for their employees) organizations becoming self-important, the government workers and officials who want to show they are doing something but at the same time are being influenced by the lobbyists and money have gone down the wrong road.

    The right road is to let teachers teach with good support, have engaging, vibrant, comprehensive, and relevant schools, and at the same time to make sure kids have the social supports to be successful in school.

    Not much money to be made, nor names to be made, nor political futures to made in advocating this however.

    P.S. Almost every experieced educator I know doesn’t endorse the status quo because they know we are doing poorly in our poorer schools and sometimes in our more well-to-do schools. But the status quo is no longer the forty year old system which worked, but the result of 20 years of testing and reform in Oregon. And you are right — it doesn’t work.

  16. kona says:

    Thank you for the thoughtful comments Steve. I will defer to your classroom experience. My energy has mostly centered around education economics as related to the education unions and our collective bargaining system. Just a couple of comments:

    1) I agree that it is not the unions job to offer solutions to Oregon’s educational problems. You said, “I think one of the most important things to think about is that teachers and the teacher union are not the same thing. The unions are a subset of the teachers”.

    That is where I see the problem. Through intimidation I have noticed that teachers have become a subset of the union. It is a rare situation in Oregon when teachers will stand up to the union dictates. The union rules the discussions with little flexibility. The union dictates that personnel cuts come before compensation adjustments. The union dictates that time in service is more important than teacher abilities. The list goes on. Woe is the teacher who disagrees. OEA and the locals are very good at what they do and volunteer local school boards have proved to be no match. The tail is wagging the dog in Oregon because it can and that has become detrimental for Oregon education.

    2) You said, “Get back to real education and add the social aspect of helping children deal with their problems outside the classroom at the same time”.

    I think you have highlighted the real problem. Our school systems have become overwhelmed with “problems outside the classroom”. These problems have hit the school system from many directions and the answer to these problems are difficult for systems to adequately address. Educational systems have become nurse, nutritional support, counseling, social facilitators etc. This has evolved to a difficult level over the last 30-40 years. Everyone knows this, but getting control of this inside a local school system is a daunting endeavor. I certainly don’t have the answers.

  17. Steve Buel says:

    To a certain degree what you say has been my experience, but it is nowhere near the depth to which you give the unions credit. For one thing all union leaders are voted upon by the membership. It is a very democratic system. Political candidates the union supports are voted upon by the membership. The contracts are voted upon by the membership. Teachers have a tendancy to follow the union in those things which benefit them and in that way you can say teachers are compliant. But to suggest there is real retribution in some manner, other than not in belonging to the union itself where the school reps try to shame teachers into being union members, has not been my experience and I would guess it is seldom the way it works.

    So the reason teachers themselves won’t stand up to the union dictates is because they are not “dictates” but the democratically arrived at and agreed upon directions. I have seen a lot of teachers outvoted and have been in the minority often myself on union votes, and in that way techers do stand up to the unions.

    Now, another argument which has some merit, is that older teachers receive benefits in compensation and tenure, which younger teachers do not — last hired, first fired.
    I have always been of the opinion that teachers pay should be more level than it is. However, the main general edge I have found that younger teachers have over older ones is not in being more up to date or even energetic, (both of these things are easily offset by years of experience) but that younger teachers are closer in age to the student and it is easier for them to gain rapport with the students. This is helpful in being liked and even in motivating some students to learn, but is often offset by younger teachers being less likely to have solid learning environments in their classrooms. In the end it comes down to the individual teacher anyway. I have a friend who taught PE and we taught together our first year out of college. He was a much better teacher, one of the best I have ever seen, after he had some seasoning.

    School districts can get rid of teachers in their first three years for basically any reason and they can fire teachers who have problems anytime if they are willing to document and put in the time it takes – according to the contract they have signed. I have seen very few really poor teachers so am not too upset about the tenure. Plus, I would often have been the first to be let go since I am often outspoken. Tenure was originally devised to allow for the free flow of ideas in a classroom and to make sure your livlihood was not taken from you for spurious reasons. Both pretty good ideas. Both misunderstood by the public who I might add, would ask for both in their work given the opportunity.

    So, I have to reject the idea that the unions play a big part in the negative aspects of education today. Yep, teachers LIKE ALL PEOPLE can be a little self-centered at times, but in the end they are all college graduates who have chosen a profession dedicated to helping young people get along in the world — and for it receive a decent, but certainly not extravagant living. Don’t see much wrong with that. And they do not in anyway deserve the teacher bashing that is found in many places.

    The real mess in our schools comes from without the classrooms, not within.

  18. Steve Buel says:

    Shawn, I just read your comments in response to mine and will send along a detailed response when I get time in a day or so. Thanks.

  19. Steve Buel says:

    Shawn, thanks for taking the time to question my comments. True dialogue is way more often than not a help to finding solutions and implemeting them, something many of our educational leaders seem to have forgotten.

    I’ll try to clarify point by point.

    I never said charters are no good in general. I do think many often cherry pick students, are set up by people to make money not for just educating students (particularly the large companies), and can bleed resources from public schools. So they are not the answer to the educattional crisis necessarily and, in fact, can create problems. Using them as an important model to replicate in the public schools has always been a good idea, but it has never actually come to fruition (often for the negative reasons I mentioned). Besides, we are loaded with lots and lots of outstanding programs in public schools which actually have been created for public schools which could be replicated if we did a much better job.

    I’ve read Diane Ravitch’s book. She seems to have become even more adamant about the failure of the reform movement which she helped create. So the video is a good reference for people who I am not sure (as with you in my post) whether they have read her book. That’s why I mentioned the video.

    One of the best discussions I have found of the role autonomy plays in work such as teaching is in the book, Drive, by Daniel H. Pink, Chapter 4. In the back he references 22 studies and the like supporting what he says in the chapter on autonomy.

    Don’t get me wrong — there are poor social psychology studies too, but to some degree you can get control groups and control the variables, two things basically impossible in education scientific studies. This criticism does not mean that there are not correlative statistical studies that have some real validity to help educators draw conclusions. For instance, high poverty being correlated with lower test scores. But this type of study gives you information but doesn’t tell you how to solve in-school problems in specific ways. But for years we have tried to use educational research to guide our actions within schools and classrooms. And we have used this research to back up huge decisions without any real validity in the research. Two examples in Portland. PPS under Hurricane Vicki shifted a huge part of the district back to K-8’s and used “educational research” which had no validity whatsoever as the main reason. Another example in PPS was the Connected Math program which was based on educational research which it trumpeted — even though its research studies were, in my modest opinion, all flawed. No control groups and no control of the variables in either case. Here is an example of how to look at an educational research study which might illustrate my point. Suppose you decide to do a study of seating charts. After all, where kids sit in relationship to other kids is an important part of classroom organization. Certainly seems worthy of a study. So let’s make up a couple of situations and test them against each other. Let’s start with the old-style 5 rows, 6 columns. for 30 kids say. Now how many ways can we arrange our 30 kids, all with almost an almost infinite number of variables in their learning styles, personalities and intelligence? Well, if you do the math there are more ways (permutations of just the one type of row example) than probably all the grains of sand on the earth. So using your study to say “research shows” is rediculous. The science is not there. Doesn’t mean you can’t do some studies that suggest some things might work better than other things (“might” being the operable word) but it is no better and probably worse than common sense since common sense incorporates experience, learning and on and on.

    I have to agree with you about having a lot of teachers who look at teaching as “just a job”. Paying them more won’t change that attitude. Nor will evaluating them better. Lots of people who look at their work as just a job do excellent work. My sister who disliked her profession of being a nurse was the outstanding nurse of the year at three different hospitals over 25 years. She also worked extremely hard since she has a terrific work ethic and cared about her patients I am sure as much or more than any nurse in the place. But to her, it was not a calling, but a job she had chosen. What might make a difference is motivating them, involving them in real ways, and giving them an autonomy which recognizes them as professionals who are capable of making good decisions. Where is this type of reform? Don’t get me wrong, there are some teachers who should not be teaching, and there are a small number of truly outstanding teachers. Everybody else falls inbetween someplace. And because again there are an infinite number of variations, not to mention the idea that most people perform better if in circumstances which support that performance. I was an excellent math teacher, would have been the worst music teacher there is, a very good 6th grade teacher, and wouldn’t have been a good 1st grade teacher. So am I good or not?? Depends of course on the situation. Also, I am excellent with real bright kids (many people are not) but not so good with special ed. students. I don’t know Spanish so lots of teachers with less experience and not as extensive background might be better than me if a large number of kids in the class spoke Spanish as a second language. All teachers have strengths and limitations. It is not so much whether they are good or bad, but what circumstances they are in. And it all depends on the ability of the administrator to place the teacher and to hire well. (The example you mention of the experienced, not as good, teacher teaching the AP class is a good one. But it is not teachers who are generally responsible for this, but the administrator who under every contract I worked has the full authority to place teachers anyplace he or she wishes. (You didn’t bring it up, but I can go on for a long, long time about how we have destroyed the principal position within a school and pretty much guaranteed that a huge number of in-school administrators are there for the wrong reasons and it is not just the hiring, but the system.)

    I don’t dismiss measurement per se. I used measurement every day in every class I ever taught for the full 40+ years. You can measure all sorts of things. I know a teacher who spent every Saturday morning for an entire year discussing assessment ideas in their classrooms. Seriously. But measurement can be overdone in many instances, as in the whole high stakes testing, or in suggesting you can actually measure the ability of the teachers in a broad and comparative way by measuring their students. It is a measure of what you measure, not a measure of if they are a good teacher compared to other teachers. And everything a good teacher teaches does not boil down to measurable things. Measure these for me in the time you have allotted: confidence, academic self-esteem, love of learning, background information, love of reading, appreciation of the importance of citizenship, understanding of human relations, ability to empathize, ability to think, love of history, love of music, analyzation skills, skepticism, appreciation of nature, understanding of how things are related, emotional control, understanding responsibility, acceptance of human differences, ability to make connections, and on and on and on. I would much rather have a teacher competent in teaching these things teaching my nephew than a teacher who scored a little higher on test scores with his or her children. Surely, measuring how a kid is doing in their reading is critical, but if one teacher does a little worse on the tests but maybe inspires his students in the long run down the road to love reading, where is that measured?

    I think one of the failings of schools is that they don’t desseminate information and create ways for teachers to better understand their students. No arguments from me there.

    Sorry about the “foolish” remark. I meant that it would be foolish to accept the analogy. I imagine you could come up with a system of payment that would make a teacher work harder and longer. And I have long decried the idea that there is such a discrepancy between teacher salaries based solely on your length of service. I think it is too large and that discrepancy is controlled by the fact that more teachers in the union are older. But I don’t buy the better pay for better teachers system because of the huge problems I have stated in both posts. I have no trouble with it except that no one has come up with a system within the present Educational structure that makes this work in a fair manner. You can pay teachers more based on certain things you establish, but it is not a better pay for better teacher system, but a better pay for these things system. We have had that for years. But for an intellectual argument to support this type of system it needs to be clarified honestly and not use the “better teacher” idea.

    Take care.

  20. Steve Buel says:

    Sorry, I got a little sloppy and punche submit before I reread again carefully — getting tired. The teacher who spent the whole year discussing assessment ideas did so every Saturday with a couple of other teachers at breakfast. Amazing really. He was a pretty good teacher in my opinion. Not because of his assessment skills though necessarily.

    educational / educational (Heck of a teacher, mistyped it twice.)

  21. Shawn Daley says:


    I promise I will respond to your post; with my teaching schedule I don’t have the ability to this week — but you raise many good points that deserve response.

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