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James W. Guthrie Blog in Response to Washington Post

Article by James W. Guthrie October 11, 2010 //   4 minute read

On Friday October 8th, the Washington Post published a remarkable editorial condemning the Edujobs bill for ineffectiveness and political conniving, concluding that it is “even clearer now than it was then that the numbers were exaggerated and that the measure was in no small part intended to motivate the powerful teachers unions for this fall’s midterm elections.” The Post says that “local school districts are now looking for creative ways to use the money.” Dr. James W. Guthrie, the Institute’s Senior Fellow in Education Policy, has a better idea. As George Will pointed out back in June, the Edujobs bill was massively ill–conceived. Now that the Washington Post editorial page has jumped in, everyone seems to admit that the bill was imperfectly constructed in response to a false crisis: a belief that only massive spending could “save hundreds of thousands of imperiled teacher jobs,” as the Post put it (see my and Arthur Peng’s article on the phony school funding crisis). In fact, very few classroom teachers are losing their jobs. Regrettably, those that do are more likely to be energetic and reform minded young teachers. Collectively bargained and state–imposed seniority provisions protect more senior, but not necessarily more effective, older teachers. Any notion that the nation is short of teachers is also ill–founded. The pupil/teacher ratio has been cut in half over the last fifty years according to National Center on Education Statistics (NCES) data). We have moved from 27 students per professional in the 1960’s to about 15 students per professional in today’s schools. In fact, the major U.S. education reform strategy has been simply “hire more teachers.” It is an unusually expensive strategy, about doubling school spending over the last half century (even when controlling for inflation). But while the money necessary to hire these teachers has poured in, the needle on student achievement progress has not moved correspondingly. One of every four first grade enrollees never graduates from high school. Our national reading scores are virtually stagnant, and our ranking among other nations in mathematics and science achievement and proportion of the population graduating from college sinks ever lower. So it’s unlikely that neither hiring still more teachers, nor increasing pay across the board for teachers we have now, will make any difference to student achievement. But the Edujobs “boondoggle” (in the Post’s words) retains $10 billion in unspent funds. Can anything be done with this money that would actually help school children? The Washington Post suggested “use the money to drive change.” Here’s my idea on how to do so: The U.S. Department of Education should treat unobligated Edujobs money as a part of Race to the Top. Any state than can assure its education system meets the following set of ten minimal standards, can keep and use its Edujobs money however it wants. Ten Education Reform Commandments

  • Teacher layoffs, should they be necessary, based on measures of instructional effectiveness, not seniority.
  • State data systems link student performance to classroom teachers by name.
  • The statewide number of allowable charter schools is unrestricted.
  • Educator performance pay is present and being expanded.
  • Teacher tenure, if it is to be granted at all, a function of empirically measurable effectiveness standards.
  • A state master plan for strengthening the state education agency is in place.
  • State alternative certification regulations exist for both teachers and principals.
  • School districts allocate funding internally based on pupil–weighted formulas.
  • State restrictions on school principal operational decision-making are eliminated.
  • State pension systems alter practices that discriminate in favor of more senior teachers at the expense of younger teachers.