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Thread: Valuing Teachers

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    Great article, Dave. Thanks for posting.

    The educational system in America is long overdue for a major overhaul.

    The fact that we've slipped so far behind other industrialized countries of the world is shameful.

    In the late 1980s, I travelled extensively through Europe and more than once felt embarrassed that I couldn't speak even a tiny bit of the language of many of the countries to which I travelled. And no matter where I was, whether it was what was then called Yugoslavia or East Berlin, or in the remote Lapland region of Finland, there was never a shortage of English-speaking locals.

    Years later, to move to Wayland for its reputation for great schools and discover that, like most of the U.S., Wayland does not offer foreign languages to 2nd and 3rd graders as they do in other parts of the world, was a disappointment. Since that time, I've learned a lot about Wayland's schools and education in general, and have come to understand the reasons (mostly political) for why that is.

    I am grateful for articles like this one by Eric Hanushek that provide some perspective. I've also been reading some books on the self-serving nature of our system in general and am very happy this has all entered the public consciousness. Mr. Hanushek's take on collective bargaining and the notion that it is actually holding teachers' salaries down from what they would be without it is kind of a relief, because in the inevitable shake-up that is coming, no one wants to see the teachers get hurt. Yet clearly, major changes are necessary if we are to move forward.

    We are at a major crossroads at the moment, not only in our national educational system, but more specifically right here in Wayland. As the Abrahams report has identified many areas for improvement in how we do business and how we handle our $48,000,000 budget and as we now have a business manager who seems intent on sorting through what at best could be called a sloppy budgeting system, and as we have a new Superintendent coming in July and have a new school committee member who like, Dr. Kinney seems intent on moving us beyond the status quo, I am very optimistic that Wayland can once again rise to the top and lead the charge as America moves to regain its lead in quality public education.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Great article, Dave. Thanks for posting.

    The educational system in America is long overdue for a major overhaul.
    Boiling the ocean requires a lot of energy. Determining how to institute the required changes will be as difficult as deciding what changes to make, if not more so.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    The fact that we've slipped so far behind other industrialized countries of the world is shameful.

    In the late 1980s, I travelled extensively through Europe and more than once felt embarrassed that I couldn't speak even a tiny bit of the language of many of the countries to which I travelled. And no matter where I was, whether it was what was then called Yugoslavia or East Berlin, or in the remote Lapland region of Finland, there was never a shortage of English-speaking locals.

    Years later, to move to Wayland for its reputation for great schools and discover that, like most of the U.S., Wayland does not offer foreign languages to 2nd and 3rd graders as they do in other parts of the world, was a disappointment.
    Offering foreign languages to students as soon as they are capable of mastering them would be good; using chronological age to make this assessment en masse would be bad.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Since that time, I've learned a lot about Wayland's schools and education in general, and have come to understand the reasons (mostly political) for why that is.
    While there may well be serious local issues that should be corrected, their impact on students likely pales in comparison to the inefficiencies, mismatches, and dogma that have accumulated over the past century or two. Big systems resist change.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    I am grateful for articles like this one by Eric Hanushek that provide some perspective. I've also been reading some books on the self-serving nature of our system in general and am very happy this has all entered the public consciousness. Mr. Hanushek's take on collective bargaining and the notion that it is actually holding teachers' salaries down from what they would be without it is kind of a relief, because in the inevitable shake-up that is coming, no one wants to see the teachers get hurt. Yet clearly, major changes are necessary if we are to move forward.
    If you haven't yet read Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, I strongly recommend it. For an accessible introduction to the relevant neuroscience, I suggest John Medina's Brain Rules. A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool is also enlightening.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Boiling the ocean requires a lot of energy. Determining how to institute the required changes will be as difficult as deciding what changes to make, if not more so.
    Yes, I'd say more so.

    Offering foreign languages to students as soon as they are capable of mastering them would be good; using chronological age to make this assessment en masse would be bad.
    How do you determine when they are capable of mastering them?

    While there may well be serious local issues that should be corrected, their impact on students likely pales in comparison to the inefficiencies, mismatches, and dogma that have accumulated over the past century or two. Big systems resist change.
    Small systems resist change, too. But that can't stop us from working towards changing big and small alike, when there's a reason to.

    Think globally, act locally.
    Act globally, too, but not at the expense of locally.

    If you haven't yet read Clayton Christensen's Disrupting Class, I strongly recommend it. For an accessible introduction to the relevant neuroscience, I suggest John Medina's Brain Rules. A Neurologist Makes the Case for the Video Game Model as a Learning Tool is also enlightening.
    Thanks for the summer reading tips.
    I heard Judy Willis on NPR and was quite intrigued with her ideas.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Offering foreign languages to students as soon as they are capable of mastering them would be good; using chronological age to make this assessment en masse would be bad.
    How do you determine when they are capable of mastering them?
    Through continuous, individual assessment.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Great article, Dave. Thanks for posting.

    The educational system in America is long overdue for a major overhaul.

    The fact that we've slipped so far behind other industrialized countries of the world is shameful.
    While I agree that there is plenty of room for improvement in American public education, it's worth noting that there *are* success stories on the international competition front. One of those stories is right here in Massachusetts. Numerous studies (here's just one example) show that MA ranks at the top of the US, and on par with top foreign countries.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    In the late 1980s, I travelled extensively through Europe and more than once felt embarrassed that I couldn't speak even a tiny bit of the language of many of the countries to which I travelled. And no matter where I was, whether it was what was then called Yugoslavia or East Berlin, or in the remote Lapland region of Finland, there was never a shortage of English-speaking locals.

    Years later, to move to Wayland for its reputation for great schools and discover that, like most of the U.S., Wayland does not offer foreign languages to 2nd and 3rd graders as they do in other parts of the world, was a disappointment. Since that time, I've learned a lot about Wayland's schools and education in general, and have come to understand the reasons (mostly political) for why that is.
    I don't remember the exact year (some time in the 2000-2005 span, I think), but the Wayland Public Schools evaluated "FLES" (foreign language in the elementary schools). Like many aspects of education, one key hurdle was cost. Now, that's an overcomeable hurdle if the will is there, but given the frequency with which Wayland was proposing and approving overrides, we did not see the opportunity. I would certainly encourage Dr. Stein to revisit the idea.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    I am grateful for articles like this one by Eric Hanushek that provide some perspective.
    Very interesting article. I completely agree with Hanushek about the importance of good teaching. I recently had the opportunity to hear Diane Ravitch speak at Clark University. Regarding Hanushek's statement that "An alternative might be to change a poor teacher into an average teacher. This approach is in fact today’s dominant strategy," she related that improving poor teaches is very much at the core of (top-scoring) Finland's philosophy.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    I've also been reading some books on the self-serving nature of our system in general and am very happy this has all entered the public consciousness. Mr. Hanushek's take on collective bargaining and the notion that it is actually holding teachers' salaries down from what they would be without it is kind of a relief, because in the inevitable shake-up that is coming, no one wants to see the teachers get hurt. Yet clearly, major changes are necessary if we are to move forward.
    "Self-servingness" would seem to be intrinsic to systems of pretty much any sort. How else does one explain, for instance, GE's $14B in profit, on which they paid zero in corporate tax. That said, systems, be they companies or schools, do have an incentive to improve, and few fail to work in that direction.

    Collective bargaining is certainly one of the elephants in the room, although people certainly aren't shy about talking about it. Interestingly enough, collective bargaining would not appear to necessarily pull down the quality of education, as top-scoring MA has one of the strongest teacher union environments in the US.

    Hanushek's apparent argument that collective bargaining inherently keeps teacher salaries low is questionable. I have no doubt that it would be possible to develop a collective bargaining agreement with more effective teacher evaluation and the opportunity for differential compensation. Whether the unions would accept such an agreement at present is a different question.

    Let's say that he's right, though. It's not clear that a majority of voters is willing to pay more for overall teacher compensation. A recent successful School Committee candidate (who at least appears to be pro-school) has argued that if Wayland compensated its teachers like other towns with what he alleges are comparable educational outcomesm, that we could save on the order of $10M out of a $50M budget. Such a move would hardly seem to be the sort that would attract better teachers.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    We are at a major crossroads at the moment, not only in our national educational system, but more specifically right here in Wayland.
    We may be at a major crossroads, but only because we are always at a major crossroads. That's the nature of education and pretty much any other human endeavor. Certainly, educational change has been front and center since at least "A Nation at Risk" in 1983.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    As the Abrahams report has identified many areas for improvement in how we do business and how we handle our $48,000,000 budget and as we now have a business manager who seems intent on sorting through what at best could be called a sloppy budgeting system, and as we have a new Superintendent coming in July and have a new school committee member who like, Dr. Kinney seems intent on moving us beyond the status quo, I am very optimistic that Wayland can once again rise to the top and lead the charge as America moves to regain its lead in quality public education.
    John, you err when you mistake process deficiencies with educational outcomes. As much as it would seem that you want the education that Wayland's delivers to be flawed so that your white knights can come in and fix it, there simply isn't evidence that supports this assertion. Our test scores remain strong. The colleges that our students attend continue to be high quality. And our anecdotal accomplishments occur with the same frequency that they have for decades.

    Wayland ranks among the best districts in the state. Massachusetts ranks among the best state in the nation, and in so doing, among the best in the world. Is there room for improvement? Most certainly. I can't speak to the Wayland Public Schools before Bill Zimmerman took over as Superintendent in the early 1970s, but since that time, he and Gary Burton have done well for our students. I have no doubt that Dr. Stein will continue this tradition of success.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein
    Offering foreign languages to students as soon as they are capable of mastering them would be good; using chronological age to make this assessment en masse would be bad.
    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty
    How do you determine when they are capable of mastering them?
    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Through continuous, individual assessment.
    While I'm a big fan of continuous individual assessment, I'm not sure that it's necessary in this case. The evidence is overwhelming that children can learn not just a first language, but also at least a second, well before they enter Kindergarten.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    While I'm a big fan of continuous individual assessment, I'm not sure that it's necessary in this case. The evidence is overwhelming that children can learn not just a first language, but also at least a second, well before they enter Kindergarten.
    I agree.

    It's a crime that we don't teach at least one other language from day one.

    I disagree that it's about the money, however. It's about proper prioritization.
    Some of the things on which we spend money instead of foreign languages are ludicrous by comparison.

    And that we haven't gotten a handle on our $48,000,000 slush fund, to determine if indeed we could afford to fund it is also a crime.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Some of the things on which we spend money instead of foreign languages are ludicrous by comparison.
    What are some of the things you would cut from the current budget? I'd certainly like to see more language options, but what would you cut?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    And that we haven't gotten a handle on our $48,000,000 slush fund, to determine if indeed we could afford to fund it is also a crime.
    Here's a definition of a "slush fund":

    slush fund - a fund for buying votes or bribing public officials

    The town voted overwhelmingly to support the school budget at Town Meeting.

    I don't believe, and doubt you even believe, that the budget is being used for criminal acts.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    Here's a definition of a "slush fund":
    slush fund - a fund for buying votes or bribing public officials
    Here's another:
    A fund (or something similar) that does not have a designated purpose.

    And that's the definition I'm referring to.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    "Self-servingness" would seem to be intrinsic to systems of pretty much any sort. How else does one explain, for instance, GE's $14B in profit, on which they paid zero in corporate tax.
    The difference is publicly-held GE is optional. People can buy shares in it if they think it's a good investment or sell shares if they don't like the direction it's going. "Publicly-held" public schools are mandatory. We pay for them whether we think they're doing a good job or not. This negates your point that they have incentives to improve.

    John, you err when you mistake process deficiencies with educational outcomes.
    What we can afford to do is driven by how much money we put into it.
    If we have inefficiencies in how we handle our money, this suggests that if we handled it better, we'd have more money to put into it, which means we could afford things that today we can't.
    There is a direct correlation between efficiencies and outcome.

    Wayland ranks among the best districts in the state. Massachusetts ranks among the best state in the nation, and in so doing, among the best in the world.
    I was with you up till the "among the best in the world" part. It's already been well established that the U.S. is no longer among the best in the world. So, even if Wayland were best in the state and MA was best in the nation, that doesn't push us up to "among the best in the world" status.

    There is a film that I highly recommend to those interested in the current state of education in America:
    The Cartel.
    Any one who has kids in school or who pays taxes should see this film.
    Watch the trailer.
    As you do, try to look beyond the references to things that don't apply to Wayland and understand that there is much that does.
    This is an incredibly eye-opening film into aspects of public education that most people never see.
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    Here's another:
    A fund (or something similar) that does not have a designated purpose.

    And that's the definition I'm referring to.
    I'm glad you are not suggesting political corruption, though that is the common connotation of that phrase. Nonetheless, though we could have and are getting, more definition in our budget, I do not believe it is at all accurate to say that our school funds don't have designated purposes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    And that we haven't gotten a handle on our $48,000,000 slush fund, to determine if indeed we could afford to fund it is also a crime.
    To call the entire Wayland Public Schools budget a slush fund is certainly not spin. It's so far beyond spin you can't get from one to the other. Reasonable people might disagree about what programs to support, but given that 90% of the budget leaves the district in the form of compensation and benefits, to say that's wrongly spent is to say that our teachers are either overpaid or inferior. Which is it that you're saying?

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    The difference is publicly-held GE is optional. People can buy shares in it if they think it's a good investment or sell shares if they don't like the direction it's going. "Publicly-held" public schools are mandatory. We pay for them whether we think they're doing a good job or not. This negates your point that they have incentives to improve.
    Not true. Living in Wayland is optional. People have come here for decades because of the quality of our schools, and they continue to do so, rightly.

    Quote Originally Posted by John Flaherty View Post
    I was with you up till the "among the best in the world" part. It's already been well established that the U.S. is no longer among the best in the world. So, even if Wayland were best in the state and MA was best in the nation, that doesn't push us up to "among the best in the world" status.
    Back in 2000 or so, I took an excellent course in product management from the company Pragmatic Marketing. To support the point that product managers should make decisions based on evidence from the marketplace rather than internal thinking, the instructor, Steve Johnson (also excellent) said, "Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant."

    The evidence supports MA students as being among the best in the world. You may not wish this to be true, but your wishing doesn't make it false.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Not true. Living in Wayland is optional. People have come here for decades because of the quality of our schools, and they continue to do so, rightly.
    You're missing the point. Forget Wayland. Where ever you move that has a public school system, you pay for it and "it" knows that you will pay for it whether you believe they're doing a good job or not, therefore giving it no incentive to improve. In fact, as pointed out in The Cartel (see link in my post above), the worse a system does, the more likely it is people will be willing and anxious to throw money at it, which ultimately rewards it for its bad performance.

    ...the instructor, Steve Johnson (also excellent) said, "Your opinion, while interesting, is irrelevant."
    The evidence supports MA students as being among the best in the world. You may not wish this to be true, but your wishing doesn't make it false.
    Unless I'm missing something here wouldn't this make your opinion equally irrelevant?
    John Flaherty

    Any views expressed are NOT mine alone.
    Wayland Transparency - Facts Without Spin
    http://www.waylandtransparency.com/

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