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

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Oh yes, Arne, the Great Incenter

I think we can't do enough to incent and reward excellence. Arne Duncan

This is not let a thousand flowers bloom, because you'll just get mediocrity and you'll perpetuate the status quo. . . .
Arne Duncan

Never mind that "incent" is not a word. In Duncan's vocabulary, which was in full monotone overdrive last night on Charlie Rose, it means pay-per-score. Duncan's pay-per-score plan should not be mistaken for bonus pay, because we know that bonus pay is offered as a way to keep valuable employees from going across the street to our competitor, like they do on Wall Street, you know--millions every year. You might call the Duncan's strategy an anti-bonus pay plan, for unless you, as a teacher, want to be sent packing across the street to look for another job, you will take the incenter's offer to wring out higher test scores. If you want job security, it is contingent on wringing out higher test scores from children already choking on tests. But this new test that Duncan has in mind will harder than the ones that a third of American children can't pass now.

So Duncan wants to make teacher pay contingent on test scores, as well as every other area of school funding, from capital improvement to toilet paper supply:
Charlie Rose: Around how will you measure their performance?
Arne Duncan: There are a number of ways to measure. You measure by student achievement, not just in the classroom level, at the school level. What we did at home is we didn't just reward teachers based on what the students are doing. We rewarded every adult in those buildings, the custodians, the security guards, the social workers, the lunch room attendants.
And according to Duncan and the Business Roundtable handlers, we need to pay children for test scores, which ends up as great vehicle for fighting crime and ending poverty: not only will children be lured to school by testing rewards rather than selling dope on the corner, but they will be able to help pay the utility bills in the crumbling apartment where their parents have no jobs. So you see this is an anti-poverty plan!
Arne Duncan: It was early on. I liked the idea. We were in our first year. And again, I'm always going to go with what the data tells us. So we tried it in a small number of schools. If it makes a big impacted, if it really drives student behavior, want to do more of it, if it doesn't, we'll do something else. I think we can't do enough to incent and reward excellence. Let me just item you with one anecdote in that. Lots of good critiques, that you're bribing students, whatever. Everywhere we go in other places people get rewarded for doing the right thing. In places like inner city Chicago, we have students who are competing with -- I think we’re competing with the gangs, for our student's lives. You have gang members saying why are you breaking your neck to go to school every single day when you can be standing on the street corner making money? And the first set of financial incentives we gave out for students who had improved grades, again, not just for showing up, for outcomes, not for inputs, for outcomes, improved grades, the joy of the students was extraordinary. If you ever talked about they're going to buy some shoes, buy whatever, and one child came up and he said he's going to help pay his mom's electric bill. This is the reality that our students are facing. My only point, that's not the right answer, but where you have drop-out rates that are staggering, where students, when that happens, we're part of the problem, we have to challenge the status quo, be willing to innovate, be willing to take some risks, if it works do more of it. If it doesn't, do something else. But don't just stand on the sideline and watch generations of children be condemned to social failure. We can't do that, Charlie. We got to be in the game, got to be in the game very aggressively. Our children need more than what we have been giving them and we have to be committed to doing that.
And those charter contract schools that are supposed to be the "laboratories of innnovation" in this brave new world of schooling? Remember those from two days ago. Well, Duncan is only interested in a very small number of experiments in these laboratories of innovation, the ones like the KIPP mind control camps are running, where high test scores come with a price of a 50% dropout rate. This is no "thousand flowers bloom" approach--Duncan and the Business Roundtable want replication, not innovation. Volume, volume, volume:
So where we have great innovation, we need to support that, replicate that, do more of it. So we have a group of charter that are running five schools and getting great, great student achievement. We should do 10. Let me explain the process. You need to have a very rigorous front end process. You should only be picking the best of the best to open their schools. This is not let a thousand flowers bloom, because you'll just get mediocrity and you'll perpetuate the status quo, very tough funding process. And then you need both great autonomy, you have to give them the autonomy to flourish, but also real accountability.
Autonomy--you remember autonomy, right? Free markets unrestrained by bureaucratic controls, where bottom lines and real competition make companies accountable?


  1. Anonymous10:54 AM

    This is just a nightmare, plain & simple.

    How can my heart be behind Obama when his Public Ed policy stabs a sword right through my frikkin' left ventricle?!?

    It looks lke my support for Obama will be based on fear---Fear of the extremists and charlatans who oppose him on most issues--It will not be based so much on hope, or dreams, or good feelings anymore.

    Maybe we just have to resign ourselves---This is a rotten, destructionist era of history that has to play itself out, before healing can ultimately begin.

    Perhaps the healing will begin a few decades after our lifetimes.

    It doesn't look to be coming anytime soon.


  2. Anonymous1:00 PM

    “We can’t do enough to incent.” Great, Arne.

    What every effective teacher at some point comes to realize is that simply pushing a failing kid to try harder will not cut it.

    And that’s now the entire policy of our education secretary and the president of change.

    It is now officially hopeless.

  3. Anonymous11:04 AM

    Good comment, Tom.

    Don't you just love the way Public Schools, teachers, students and parents get "tough-Love",
    while the Corporate Captains of Industry and Finance--WHO LED AMERICA INTO THIS ECONOMIC MELTDOWN--SCREAM like 2-year-olds at any notion of regulation of THEIR businesses.

    In America, clearly, Big-Business leaders are SUPERIOR to regular citizens like teachers, parents and kids.
    They are superior because THIS SOCIETY (reinforced by Obama) GIVES THEM MORE RIGHTS AND PRIVELEGES THAN THE LOWLY SCUM (i.e.Educators and middle-class and poor people) WHO WORK FOR A LIVING.

    If this ends up being part of Obama's Legacy, then his Presidency risks being a
    collossal failure.

    I'm not sure if Obama or his children have ever attended Public Schools--I read they haven't,
    but I need to confirm this.

    In any case, ironically, if true, this would bring at least some credence to rightwing charges against Obama (during the election) as being "Elitist".

    No true Elitist would understand Public Education or sincerely VALUE it.

    My God, IS Obama actually
    an Educational Elitist?

    The apparent possibility of this reality emerging right now,
    makes my blood run cold.