Thursday, June 30, 2011
Over the next week I'm going to review a handful of education bills that were signed into law and give you the skinny: what's great and what is not so great?
I'll start with AB 225 - this bill allows tenured teachers with two unsatisfactory reviews in a row to be put on probationary status (aka tenure is revoked). Teachers must then do another year as a probationary teacher in which they can be dismissed at the end of the year if they don't improve.
Sounds great, but is this a good bill? The devil is in the details and well...this bill isn't that great once you get to know the details.
First, teachers can "fight" unsatisfactory reviews, forcing the principals into multiple meetings with the teacher. In these potentially lengthy meetings, the principal must explain the teachers deficiencies and provide reasonable assistance to help improve the teacher's quality. Over the course of 1 probationary year, the principal must do three of these evaluations with each probationary teacher. There is, I've been told, a considerable amount of paperwork and time required when you write an unsatisfactory teacher evaluation. It is such a headache for principals, that many just give teachers satisfactory evaluations and move on. This is why some 97 percent of teachers get satisfactory evaluations.
Even still, the bulk of those teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations keep their jobs in the end. According to the left-of-center think tank, Center for American Progress, Nevada keeps 99.4 percent of its teachers (according to Governor Sandoval it is 99.7 percent). The reason? Thanks to mountains of paperwork and the ability to fight unsatisfactory reviews and ultimately fight the job termination itself, it is a pain in the butt to get rid of the bad teachers. Worse still, according to one principal I interviewed last year (who feared being sent to Goodsprings for talking about the process and so will remained unnamed) admitted the easiest way to get rid of bad teachers was to give them a good review!
Here is how it works. Principals can figure out pretty quickly which new teacher stinks and which ones have potential. But instead of writing a bad review for the bad teachers and dealing with all the paper work, the principal writes a good review. With good review in hand, the principal then notifies the school district that they no longer need that teacher. The bad teacher, is then recycled back into the applicant pool where they are given first priority to any new job opening up in the district. In other words, bad teachers are just shuffled off to a different school.
This bill doesn't address that problem....at all.
Additionally, if the principal requests dismissal of the teacher, said teacher can continue the fight by requesting requesting arbitration. In other words, a tenured teacher still has four attempts to fight job termination. Worst of all, according to the Center for American Progress, Nevada actually fires more tenured teachers than untenured teachers.
In other words, very few, if any, bad teachers will be fired because of this new law.
These facts suggest not much will change. Unless the principal and student testing data evaluations are final (ie remove ability of teachers to fight and create mountains of paperwork and time wasting meetings for the principal) the bill won't do much of anything right now.
While this is not a victory of "action" it is a victory in the "war of ideas." The seed has been planted that "getting rid of bad teachers" is a good idea. Its only a matter of time before that seed grows and real meaningful legislation can take root.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Monday, June 13, 2011
ECON 5100 - "Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics" taught by Dr. Parker at UNR
and Dr. Smastresk at UNLV
Dr. Elliot Parker, the chair of the economics department at UNR, penned a column in the Las Vegas Sun this weekend that contained a few errors. I'm not surprised - I've noticed that he's less than honest when it comes to advocating for his own job (he makes $143,282 a year in salary and benefits).
As the chair of the economics department and member of the faculty senate, it is his job to advocate for more spending for his university - a school that is mostly white, educates very few low-income children and spends more than $35,000 per pupil, but still can't graduate 50 percent of the students after 6 years. Dr. Parker calls that success, I call that robbing the poor to pay the Ph.D.
Back to the topic at hand; Dr. Parker's nonsense:
1) "The budget was cut from $6.9 billion to $6.2 billion"
A) Not exactly; the general fund budget was cut from $6.9 billion to $6.5 billion in 2010 then to nearly $6.3 billion in $2011 - it wasn't overnight as Parker alludes. Btw, the $6.9 billion is a record setting budget that occurred during our economic boom and the legislature tried to sustain the housing boom spending with tax hikes in 2009.
2) "For comparison, our gross state product fell by 6.5 percent from peak to trough in this recession, and our personal income fell by 7.3 percent."
A). Again, Dr. Parker is appears dishonest by deliberately "hiding the ball." He's comparing the overall economy to 1/3rd of the state budget. The General Fund budget is money the state legislature can play with from year to year but it does not represent the totality of all state spending. In fact, most of the revenues are dedicated automatically to pressing and essential services of education and health and human services.When looking at the OVERALL state budget, not just the general fund, the difference between the legislatively approved and Governor Sandoval's original proposal (which Parker finds appalling) was a 6.9 percent decline from the peak- right in line with the metrics Parker cited. We probably wouldn't see much of a difference if we tossed in local government spending either, especially once you toss back in the $620 million in unexpired taxes. I'd wager we'd probably be under a 4 percent decline at that point.
Contrary to popular opinion, it appears general fund spending will be
in line with the last 20 years of growth.
We should also note that the economic peak occurred about 2 years earlier than the government spending peak. In other words, Nevada's state legislature tried to keep the good times rolling - for state employees. - longer than was economically possible...
3) "Nevada spends just 0.65 percent of its GSP on higher education"
A). Who cares! This is monumental nonsense. A state can spend more per pupil than others yet less as a percentage of GSP on account of having a higher GSP, or fewer students, or both. This is the case with Nevada. There are also a number of other reasons why looking at this figure is complete nonsense. I already covered that in my blog post "Debunking Meaningless Statistics About Higher Education" here.
4) "Nevada ranks 49th for higher education spending"
A). Only when looking at spending as a percentage of GSP - which, as I mentioned above, is nonsense. When looking at what matters - HOW MUCH IS SPENT PER PUPIL ON INSTRUCTION AND RESEARCH - Nevada's higher education spending ranked 15th highest! Don't believe me, examine the Delta Cost Project report "Trends in College Spending" yourself. See, Table 13 on page 33.
Lots of people tell me Dr. Parker is an excellent teacher, and maybe he is. But as a researcher he's terrible; or at least misleading when it comes to Nevada politics and higher education. I may sound like I'm being mean, but this isn't the first time Dr. Parker used bogus data or just made up facts in order to drum up more tax dollars for his employer: (Check out my article from 2009 "Government, a different animal." A very simple regression analysis completely whipped out Dr. Parker's thesis).
Once again, Dr. Parker is flat out wrong about higher education spending and statistics. He is correct, however, that Nevada could use a new tax code - not for more money, but for a more stable tax base.
Friday, June 10, 2011
Now that the legislative session is over I'm busy looking for more work (if you have full-time or part-time work for me, email me at email@example.com). Finding more work is important because all three projects I'm working on (education software, charity fund-raising program, and a high tech charter school) won't make any money for another year. Did I ever mention that I pitched my charter school concept to Zappos Inc? Who knows if they'll adopt the plan when they open their school in 2013-14, but my concept is very innovative and very disruptive.
So while I'm working on all this I won't have as much time to blog. For the time being, I will leave you with this ancient question (in the picture above) to ponder. Bonus points to those who figure out who is the man in the painting and what rap song he his singing.
Monday, June 6, 2011
American Indian Public Charter School scored 4 standard deviations above the norm in California. As Andrew Coulson says, that is ginormous!
Are philanthropists and charitable foundations good at picking the best charter schools to back and fund? According to a new report from Andrew Coulson at the Cato Institute the answer is NO.
The real problem, according to Coulson, is that we are still not able to replicate top-notch schools consistently.
The top ranked school in Coulson's study was American Indian in Oakland, California - a school of low-income inner city children. American Indian has a no nonsense approach to education (no silly fluffy hippy education theories here), students are tested and those who don't achieve are held back (free tutoring is provided) teachers have high expectations of students and students, parents and teachers are all encouraged to buy into the AIM culture the school has developed. Check out the AIM model here.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
My parents are visiting me from Virginia so I took them out for a night on the town.... Yes, I took them to see Donnie and Marie at the Flamingo. At 30, I may have been the youngest person in the crowd. Oh well.
Donnie and Marie don't play my kind of music but they are excellent entertainers and singers. In between songs they poked fun at their own aging and engaged in some great brother-sister banter; both added great value to the entertainment. The dancers were pretty darn good (and the girl dancers darn good looking!).
That said, the most amazing thing of the night was when Donnie Osmond jumped on a table and walked into the crowd. I haven't seen my mom shoot up out of her chair that fast....ever. In fact, I've never seen middle age women (and there were a lot) move that fast. It's like they were swooning teenage girls again. Eek!