[lbo-talk] Michelle Rhee

Chuck Grimes cgrimes at rawbw.com
Fri May 8 00:44:42 PDT 2009

``...Controlling for teacher experience, degrees, and student characteristics, uncertified TFA recruits are less effective that certified teachers, and perform about as well as other uncertified teachers....'' [posted Mike Beggs]


This whole discussion about alternative systems from traditional teacher training and public schools almost exactly mirrors the US wave of alternatives to standard public school education and battles over charter schools. And the conflict in assessment findings mirrors the Hoxby controversy.

I wrote the post below for other reasons, but I hope you find it enlightening for the context of US education. The short form is that the assholes in power do not want to spend money on education for the masses, especially the darker poorer masses, and they will go to any length to avoid it. There is an entire NGO cottage industry that can be counted on to produce any result requested to justify any public policy that reduces spending on public education. Obama came out of this kind of NGO environment as did his secretary for the department of education, and as did Michelle Rhee.

Dorene asked me how I got from arm chomping maniac to email maniac. Below adds some background...


`` `I have seen the law’s power and its limitations,' Mr. Duncan said. `I agree with the president-elect that we should neither bury N.C.L.B. nor praise it without reservation.'

Mr. Duncan has seven years’ experience as chief executive of the Chicago Public Schools, the nation’s third-largest school district, where he has earned a solid reputation for confronting pressing issues in public education, like how to raise teacher quality, how to transform weak schools and when to shutter those that are irredeemably failing.''

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/d/ arne_duncan/index.html?inline=nyt-per

The above, I think tells me enough to figure out who Duncan is and how Obama understands the issues in public education policy. I think what it means is more of the usual corporate mind set applied to public sector education, healthcare, and what's left of welfare.

Duncan has a degree in Sociology from Harvard, played basketball, but has never taught. I read he and a CEO of a private capital firm named Ariel Capital Management took over fiscal management of a network of public schools in Chicago.

Here is the deal. Discussion and debate on education policy does no belong to the realm of free market ideology. The whole concept is wrong minded. Most of these sorts of discussions are driven by cost effective terminology adapted from manufacturing and business production under Taylorism and Fordist, or so-called scientific management schemes to get the biggest bang for the buck out the work place and or the capital behind it. In other words education funding is a business investment that is supposed to produce returns on those investments.

You can see this business management mind set and its ruin especially in healthcare, welfare, and education. The political purpose is to cut costs, and marginalize more realistic appraisals of the cost of providing a social safety net. It also serves as politically safe way to clean up internal corruption in local government, by privatization where professional thieves do a much better job than your average political hack.

Go back a little further and ask what gave rise to the whole concept of a non-governmental organization, and privatization of governmental services. Take former secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's history as a case study.

He got his start dismantling the core of Johnson's OEO. The idea of using outside contractors arose from the military industrial complex and think tanks like the Rand Corporation. They specialized in developing policy evaluation methods and applying them to the military and defense industry. A lot of the Kennedy administration was populated by former whiz kids, so-called. Take the example of Robert McNamara who applied corporate Taylorist and Fordist systems to `modernize' running the military and government. His former job was CEO of Ford. They `engineered' the Vietnam war, and we all know how that turned out. The same kind of mind set went into developing our current wars and are still hard at it, working on social and educational `reform.'

Let's go back to Rumsfeld because he spans the whole last thirty or so years. Rumsfeld was very successful in transferring much of those bean counter business evaluation schemes to the whole spectrum of domestic public service sector. Once transplanted they spread like wild fire.

The political reason for this prairie fire of evaluation and assessment methods was the way the power elites managed to dismantle and denigrate most of the social, health, and education reforms funded by a more progressive minded government of a previous era. So- called independent evaluation contractors were brought in to make the case that government programs didn't work, i.e were not cost effective. While it's obvious that you have to keep track of where tax dollars go and how they get spent, the real question is, is the funding as described by legislative guidelines doing the job at hand or not? The free market ideology, doesn't want to deal with the larger policy question, because the whole ideology is based on the idea that government doesn't work.

Trace back again and look at the concept of `independent' evaluation and assessment. Education, health and welfare already have a long tradition of professional evaluation systems that arose within their respective professions. Within these fields, they have fought endless battles and done endless studies over technical issues specific to their own realms of knowledge and practice. Many to most have nothing to do with the corporate market place, or concepts of competition or even much to do with economic theories, models or professional economists and their practices.

Going back to the military example, ever since warfare the best teachers on methods and practice are themselves veterans of the battlefield. Now just imagine how well the corporate mind set was received by the in-line military staff who had been to battle. There is a great combination of books that detail out in long histories how David Halberstam's Best and Brightest got the whole Vietnam war wrong. You can follow that with Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie. The latter details out the career of John Paul Vann a battlefield veteran. Sheehan's book follows Vann's failed efforts to reform and change the corporate mind set in the military running a war back in Washington.

I think I am beginning to conclude that Obama, and his OE secretary are corporate managers who rose in the ranks of the NGO and think tank model of governance. What's at fault here in pragmatic terms is that neither one is really who they claim to be. Managing a non- profit community organization is not the same as doing community organizing from within a community action group. Obama was not in service delivery. He was managing the organizations who did service delivery. Managing NGOs has become a profession in and of itself, and most of the time, that professionalization has long ago parted company with direct experience in the street level battlefields of social and educational reform. It is an NGO business model, not a model of how to run government and policy reform.

When you track down Michelle Rhee's bio, you see the same general profile. She is a professional manager from the private sector NGOs and think tanks. She graduated with a BA in government policy, and a masters in public policy. Her speciality was working in the NGO consultant industry of teacher and education evaluations. These are considered independent `competition' to the public sector knowledge base of college education departments, credential programs, and a whole field of social science and education studies with their own methods of evaluation, back up by their own reams of empirical field data.

For a taste of what these econometric analyst types sound like, try this quote:

``In Stochastic Frontier Analysis efficiency, or more precisely inefficiency, is measured as the distance between some stochastic frontier and the actual production or cost point. That inefficiency is usually assumed to be function of a set of exogenous variables. In the case of education, we are therefore adding an inefficiency term to the typical education production function, and that inefficiency term is a function of school related variables. This approach gives us a measure of inefficiency and we can determine if school organization influences inefficiency.''

There you have it. Public education analyzed by statistical mechanics. So then the translation is that they are considering the school as a factory, the teacher as a worker on the production line and the child's test score as the item produced. The model data they used were statistics from the Arizona state system and tested whether this or that model of the education factory produces well scoring units.... Continuing on:

``Consider a determinist production frontier model y_i = f(x, Beta) (1) ---------------- 1 See also Holmes, et. al (2003) and Hoxby (2003) for further evidence of traditional public school improvements in response to the presence of charter schools. 2 Hoxby (2004) finds evidence that charter school students across the nation are 3.2 and 5.2 percent more likely to be proficient in math and reading, respectively, and Hoxby and Rockoff (2004) find that in Chicago achievement scores are roughly six percentiles higher for students who enroll in charter schools by grade five.

[My note. Hoxby, a Harvard economist was later found by EPI (Max?) to use inadequate data sets failing to correct for student socioeconomic background. See: http://www.epi.org/publications/entry/bp158/

Heritage touted Hoxby as robust analysis:

``Caroline Hoxby has provided an important evaluation of charter schools. Her findings indicate that this entrepreneurial and innovative educational effort is reaping positive results, particularly for students ill-served by public schools.''

Bush's own National Assessment for Education Progress in a small survey of its own found the opposite to Hoxby, that charter schools had lower achievement scores.]

---------------- where y_i is the output for producer i, x_i is the vector of inputs for producer i, Beta is a vector of parameters, and f(*) is technology transforming inputs into the outputs. In the case of education, y_i is typically test scores or graduation rates, and x_i typically contains expenditures per student, student characteristics, and teacher characteristics. By incorporating a random component, we can allow output to differ randomly between producers. This stochastic production frontier can be specified as

y_i = f(x_i, Beta)) e^v_i , (2) where v_i is an independent and identically distributed random variable typically assumed to be normally distributed.

We can further augment the model by allowing producers to produce at a point below the production frontier. Let

y_i = f(x_i, Beta) TE * e^v_i (3)

where 0 < TE < 1 represents a producers technical efficiency...''

The model babbles on. Think about what is going on here. Education is an economic sector of manufacturers, where public, private, charter and combination thereof form a competitive system of which production model is better able to compete or more efficient in its production methods.

Despite my loathing of this sort of bullshit, it is an interesting thing to read:


Here is the conclusion:

``This paper explores differences in technical efficiency between traditional public schools and both profit and non-profit charter schools using a stochastic frontier model. We find that administration spending tends to have a negative effect on test scores, while classroom spending tends to have a positive effect on test scores. Spending on support services or supplies had little effect on test scores. More experienced teachers tended to increase efficiency, while minority percentage tended to decrease efficiency. Charter schools, both for profit and not for profit, appeared to have higher frontiers, but lower levels of efficiency when compared to traditional schools. The overall effect of charter schools on test scores is mixed. '' Gwen Ifill followed up yesterday's special PBS focus on education with Michelle Rhee in Washington DC, by looking at New Orleans as tonight's (05/07) example. Here was EPI on Louisiana:

``The selective nature of charter schools (students choose to attend charter schools; they are not assigned randomly) may be one reason why some of the smaller states in terms of charter presence enjoy a large charter advantage in Hoxby's results. For example, in Louisiana charter schools outperform their matched regular public schools by 30 points in both reading and mathematics. Yet Louisiana's charter schools are majority white, while the share of whites in the matched public schools is only 12%; there is also a large 40 percentage-point difference in the share of students eligible for free or reduced- price lunches.''

There are some real world points ignored here that Joanna already pointed out. Charter schools engage in cherry picking and in systematic rejection by grade average, by disability, and by behavior, such that the traditional public schools keep the rejects. In other words charter schools are inherently discriminatory. Separate is not equal.

In regard to the use of Arizona as sample data used in the above model, EPI continues:

``Arizona, which leads the nation in the proportion of public school students attending charter schools (other than Washington D.C.), has a much lower proportion of Hispanics (26% vs. 46%) and a much higher proportion of whites (61% vs. 42%) in charter schools.23 ''

I am not sure I can even begin to explain what is so terribly wrong about this entire direction in education. A teacher is a primal human relationship like a mother, father, sibling. A teacher must contain the full attributes of such a primordial role from wisdom and knowledge to love and expression. This is why children and youth in primative societies are sent to the elders both men and women for training in the ways of life. That has never changed. So then these roles can not be manufactured. Instead as a vast mass society we have to provide the spectrum of opportunities for people who decide they want to take up this craft and let them work their way toward achieving mastery at it. It's a kind of art form.

Like all art forms there is no fast and efficient way. It all costs money and time. In the EPI study they discovered the obvious. The best results are achieved from teachers with the most experience. Duh.


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