"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, December 26, 2005

Pay to Say Academics and State Education Policies

In the style of his predecessor, when Gov. Rick Perry got ready to make his move against public education in Texas, he called on a right wing propaganda tank to make the recommendations that he wanted to hear.

The Hoover Institute had recommendations waiting for just such an occasion, with enough big time corporate socialists and one-time respectable scholars to impress any part-time state legislator. Despite opposition by every education organization in Texas to the Koret Task Force Report, a bill passed that mirrored the recommendations of the Task Force. The bill calls for performance pay for teachers based on student test scores, vouchers, further deregulation of charters, reduction of property taxes, more student testing. You get the picture. It is worth mentioning that, at the top of the list of task force members is John Chubb, VP and Chief Ed. Officer of Edison Schools. Imagine that.

Though busy in Texas, the Task Force was also on the move in Arkansas, where they were invited by Gov. Huckabee to work a similar miracle there. According to news reports, however, it would seem that the jig might be up if this piece from the Arkansas Times can be an indicator.

Savor this one--you don't get this kind of reporting nearly so often enough:

Jennifer Barnett Reed
Updated: 12/15/2005

The 166-page report on education in Arkansas released Monday by the Koret Task Force was billed by Gov. Mike Huckabee as an objective outsiders’ perspective on what state leaders need to do to improve the state’s schools.

An outsiders’ perspective, certainly. But to call it objective is, at best, stretching it.

The Koret Task Force is an arm of the Hoover Institute, a conservative think tank based at Stanford University (its overseers include Walter Hussman, publisher of the editorially conservative Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and a financial

backer of controversial “merit pay” experiments in Little Rock public schools). The task force’s members are education scholars, many of whom have strong ties — both ideologically and financially — to conservative organizations that promote “market-driven” public education ideas such as vouchers and allowing private, for-profit companies to manage public schools.

Huckabee invited the task force in late 2004 to evaluate Arkansas’s education system and recent reforms. Earlier that year, the task force had released a study of the education system in Texas, and its recommendations were translated almost unchanged into legislation there by the majority Republican legislature.

That’s not likely to happen in Arkansas, though, where Huckabee will be out of office by the time the legislature — not historically inclined to follow his lead on education policy anyway — reconvenes in 2007. Still, the task force’s report here is certain to be used by prominent business owners who have already been promoting the ideas it contains.

The task force’s chairman, Chester Finn, is also president and chairman of the board of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, another conservative education think tank. Finn was an assistant secretary of education under President Reagan and is one of the most prominent conservative education experts in the country. He has been affiliated with other conservative think tanks as well — including the Manhattan Institute and the Hudson Institute. And he was a founding partner of the Edison Project, a for-profit company set up to manage public schools.

Then there’s Paul Peterson, a Harvard-based political scientist and researcher who’s been funded in the past by the pro-voucher Olin Foundation. Research he did in the late 1990s on a voucher program in Milwaukee that concluded public school students who used vouchers to attend private schools did better than their counterparts who stayed in public schools was later widely discredited in the education community.

In the Koret Task Force’s report on Arkansas education, Peterson co-authored a chapter on charter schools and school choice with John Chubb, who’s chief education officer and a founder of Edison Schools — in other words, Chubb has a financial interest in promoting the idea that public schools should be turned over to private, for-profit management companies.

Other members of the task force have been long-time proponents of vouchers and charter schools, as well as using free-market principles to reconfigure public education systems.

So it’s no surprise that the task force’s recommendations include removing virtually all restrictions on charter schools: They should be automatically excused from all but a few education regulations, including existing collective bargaining agreements in the case of a school that converts from traditional to charter status. Nor should the state Board of Education be the sole authorizer of charter schools — public universities and non-profit education and community development organizations should also be given that authority, according to the task force. On the other hand, the state and local school districts should give charter schools more money to pay for facilities and other capital needs, as well as transportation.

The task force would also radically revamp how the state certifies and pays teachers. Instead of requiring an education degree of would-be teachers, the state instead should certify anyone with a bachelor’s degree who can pass a “rigorous” test of subject matter content and a criminal background check, then provide training in teaching techniques after teachers are already hired and in the classroom.

As for how those teachers would be paid, the task force recommended putting in a system that would be largely based on teachers’ performance as determined, at least in part, by their students’ standardized test scores. . .


  1. Jim, this is chilling. Thanks for this.

  2. You know, part of me says "Let 'em do it. Let them slaughter public education and hang it in the locker to age, then slice it, dice it, grind it up, heat it and serve it." They would deserve the results.

    But the larger part of me says, "no. NO! THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE FOR MY KIDS OR MY GRANDKIDS!"

    It's not as if Yale were providing any better an education than a public school: just better connections.