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Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain

Thursday, September 21, 2006

More Reactions to Green's Education "Plan"

Unsurprisingly, the unions don't like Mark Green's education "plan," released Tuesday. WEAC's release is the only one on-line right now; they point out, as I did, that the "plan" is a "mish-mash of half-policies--cooked up in Washington, D.C. think tanks--that ignores the most meaningful research on education, does not recognize the importance of local control, and disregards much of what we know about what works for Wisconsin’s great schools."

AFT-Wisconsin's release, which showed up in my mailbox but not yet on their website, reminds us of Green's Congressional record on education. "As Congressman," the AFT notes, "Mark Green voted against $7.8 billion in funding for education programs, and voted to cut $806 million from No Child Left Behind, an already underfunded mandate." Makes it hard to trust that Green now has the best interest of kids in mind.

MTEA, my union, also dropped a release in my mailbox before it went online: "None of these initiatives," they remind us, "have a proven track record for increasing student achievement. [. . .] The real solutions to creating strong schools and strong communities are providing adequate funding for our schools, implementing research-based reforms like small class sizes and early education opportunities, and providing professional development to help teachers improve their practice." That is indeed where the research shows investment makes the biggest difference, and Green's "plan" is silent on all of them.

All of the unions whose reactions I've seen have missed the point that Green's plan means, basically, the end of collective bargaining as we know it, by eliminating the last incentive schools boards had not to impose a qualified economic offer (QEO) every time negotiations roll around. I shudder to think what would have happened to my own contract--when the superintendent initially called for all employees, even those only earning $10,000 or $12,000 a year, to contribute up to $8,000 a year out of their salary for health care. We went to arbitration and got an okay deal (though not the best deal for taxpayers) because the QEO law as written is still a double-edged sword for districts. Green's plan takes away the edge of the sword that hurts them, and adds another edge to be used against unions.

Two editorials popped up in the Google News this morning about Green's "plan," including one from the state's largest daily paper which says Green's "ideas" are "worth debating." They then proceed to dismiss all the aspects of Green's "plan" they discuss except one--expanding the Milwaukee voucher program to include schools in the whole county, not just the city. They don't even touch the most significant elements of the plan, like the so-called "70% solution" or the end of collective bargaining on compensation issues altogether. The editorial seems as empty an exercise as Green's "plan" in the first place. C'mon, editors, you can do better than that.

The second is an op-ed from the chair of the UW's Badger Herald editorial board. If this is the kind of journalistic leader our future holds, jeebus help us:
The Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of Teachers got more specific in their press release, which they released a month ago after gaining wind of Mr. Green’s proposal. Quoting a Standard & Poor’s study, AFT-Wisconsin said “there is no significant positive correlation between the percentage of funds that districts spend on instruction and the percentage of students who score proficient or higher on state reading or math tests.”

The quote, of course, suggests there is no connection between the performance of a teacher and the performance of his or her students. A school district might as well fire all its teachers and instead show students a continuous loop of film strips every day--it would save a boatload of money on instructional costs and students’ test performance wouldn’t drop at all.
Just . . . wow. AFT's quote "suggests" no such thing, there, Bucky. Remember for a second the definition of "classroom spending" that the national "65% Solution" movement uses--anything from football uniforms to books and computers--much of which tells us nothing about the performance of a teacher. But worst of all, our friend Bucky didn't even bother to look up the original S&P study (.pdf) to find out if S&P actually agrees with his interpretation of a one-line quote. And the answer is, um, no (my emphasis):
Standard & Poor’s analysis of district level spending and student achievement data in the states that are currently considering a 65 Percent Solution reveals that higher instructional spending allocations are not consistently linked to higher achievement levels. This does not mean that how districts spend their money does not matter; in fact, allocating more money to instruction is a laudable goal. However, mandating a specific spending allocation is not likely to provide a “silver bullet” solution to raising student achievement. The wide range in districts’ academic proficiency rates at any given spending allocation suggests that the specific ways that school districts use their instructional dollars may have as much, if not more, of an impact on student achievement as the percentage of dollars spent in the classroom.
To be fair to Bucky Badger, he does go on to re-write Green's 70% proposal to something he likes better before declaring it a rousing success. But even then--a proposal to specifically limit the amount spent on "administration"--Bucky doesn't take into account the very different needs of districts all across the state or provide a definition for what he thinks "administration" means. I worry for the future of journalism indeed.

And, of course, I worry about the strength of K-12 education is Green gets his muddy mitts all over it.

But my favorite reaction to Green's education "plan"? The announcement that a national pro-voucher group is going to spend $1 million to help Green gut public education in the state. Hm . . . Green announces a massive expansion of vouchers on Tuesday, and within a week a pro-voucher group is buying TV time . . . Must just be a coincidence.

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