Public School Teaching Crisis


Teaching ate me alive –

Wrong profession? Lost perspective? Just another whiny, self-absorbed wool-gatherer? Guilty as charged. Hey, I’m a card-carrying, fellow-traveling union member! But I do have one suggestion for civilians. As a public school teacher, I considered myself a public servant, like cops, firemen, food service workers and other “heroes” who are willing to do difficult, thankless, vital jobs for very little pay and not much more than the scorn of their fellow citizens. Thus, the door of my classroom was always open to parents, administrators, politicians, journalists and passers-by. But I waited in vain for company, for visitors were scarce. All the jibber jabber about public education these days seems to be based solely on idle speculation, memories of a Golden Age and the bilge that the LA Times publishes in lieu of objective journalism. So please stop by a classroom sometime. You might be surprised. And you’re paying for it.

There’s a good reason that American slaves were forbidden to learn to read: Literacy is freedom. Free, high quality, accessible, equitable education is the bedrock of a free society. That’s not just Tea Party flag-waving; it’s the Incontestable Eternal Truth. Sadly, in the final analysis, historical and political forces are at work that leave us, the teachers and students, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. People, people, people! Can’t you see that The Man wants us ignorant? Unite, my friends! We have nothing to lose but our …  ohferchrissakenevermind!

But remember, if you’re there when the last dog reaches the last hill: Lost causes are the only ones worth fighting for

Teaching ate me alive –

The teaching profession is an endangered species. A learned and difficult profession is under attack with the apparent intent of reducing its pay to something akin to a hamburger flipper. The ideas of the “reformers” seem to consist not of putting money into public schools but removing teacher  protections. Teachers are now portrayed in popular movies and “reformer” financed documentaries as evil or incompetent obstacles to educational success. Teaching is an institution laboring under the ridiculous burden of No Child Left Behind, a barrage of often bizarre state mandated rules and governed by administrators who at times seem to be focused on driving out every vestige of independence and enthusiasm. We destroy the teaching profession at our peril. It is an institution that has served this country well.

Make no mistake. The public school teaching crisis will have real casualties not just among the faculty. Without teacher opposition, school boards will have much more power to create rules and policies without interference.* They are the main line of defense against the threat of privatization, a pet project of a good number of billionaires and largely a failure at improving test scores.** But the simplest and clearest danger is that many teachers will leave the profession. After all, in a nation that believes “you get what you pay for,” many have decided teaching is worth but little.

James Pilant

*Don’t take my word that school boards do strange things. Run  a simple search, school board controversy, and then have fun wading through the entries.



Policy Brief: The Evidence on Charter Schools and Test Scores

December 2011

(This is a brief excerpt from the much larger report which I recommend you download and read yourself.)

This discussion on charter school evidence will focus almost entirely on test-based outcomes. Testing
data provide an incomplete picture of student and school performance, while other outcomes, such as
graduation rates, parental satisfaction and future earnings, are no less important. This review focuses on
testing results because they are the outcome used in most charter studies, whereas analyses positing
alternative measures are more scarce.
That said, there is a considerable body of evidence that corroborates CREDO’s findings. For instance, a
2009 RAND Corporation analysis of charter schools in five major cities and three states found that, in
every location, charter effects were either negative or not discernibly different from regular public
1 Effect sizes can be interpreted in different ways. For instance, some researchers argue that even very small testing gains are
associated with substantial increases in economic growth (e.g., Hanushek and Woessman, 2007). In addition, achievement is
cumulative, which means that single-year effects can understate the total impact of schools.
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schools’ (Zimmer et al., 2009). As one might expect, charters tended to get better results the more years
they had been in operation.
Similarly, a 2010 report by researchers from Mathematica Policy Research presented the findings from a
randomized controlled trial of 36 charter middle schools in 15 states (Gleason et al., 2010). They found
that the vast majority of students in these charters did no better and no worse than their counterparts in
regular public schools in terms of both math and reading scores, as well as virtually all the 35 other
outcomes studied. There was, however, important underlying variation – e.g., results were more positive
for students who stayed in the charters for multiple years, and those who started out with lower scores (as
mentioned above, CREDO reached the same conclusions).
A number of state-specific studies buttress the conclusion of wide variation in charter effects.
A paper published in 2006 found slightly negative effects of charters in North Carolina (Bifulco and
Ladd, 2006); CREDO’s results for North Carolina were mixed, but essentially uncovered no difference
large enough to be educationally meaningful (CREDO, 2009).
Booker et al. (2004) found a positive charter impact in Texas after 2-3 years of attendance, but the effect
sizes were very small. Gronberg and Jansen (2005) reached the same conclusion for elementary and
middle but not high schools, while CREDO (2009) found small negative effects overall.
A published analysis of charters in Florida showed negative effects during these schools’ first five years
of attendance, followed by comparable (with regular public schools) performance thereafter. The reading
impact was discernibly higher, but the difference was modest (Sass, 2006). It’s also worth noting that
CREDO’s (2009) Florida analysis found a small positive effect on charter students after three years of
attendance, while a 2005 RAND report on California charters revealed no substantial difference in overall
performance (Zimmer and Buddin, 2005; also see Zimmer, et al., 2003).
Lastly, a 2006 study using Idaho data showed moderate positive charter effects (Ballou, et al., 2006),
while students attending Arizona charters for 2-3 years had small relative gains, according to a 2001
Goldwater Institute analysis (Solmon, et al., 2001; note that, once again, CREDO found the opposite).
Finally, most recently, Mathematica and CRPE released a report presenting a large, thorough analysis of
charter management organizations, or CMOs (Furgeson, et al., 2011). In order to be included in the study,
CMOs had to be well-established and run multiple schools, which meant that the schools that were
included are probably better than the average charter in terms of management and resources. The overall
results (middle schools only) were disappointing – even after three years of attendance, there was no
significant difference between CMO and comparable regular public school students’ performance in
math, reading, science, or social studies. Some CMOs’ schools did quite well, but most were no different
or worse in terms of their impact.
In an attempt to “summarize” the findings of these and a few other single-city studies not discussed
above, the latest meta-analysis from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) concluded that
charter and regular public school effects were no different in middle school reading and high school
reading and math (Betts and Tang, 2011). There were statistically discernible positive impacts in middle
school math and elementary school math and reading, but the effect sizes were very modest. The primary
conclusion, once again, was that “charters under-perform traditional public schools in some locations,
grades, and subjects, and out-perform traditional public schools in other locations, grades, and subjects.”
This lines up with prior reviews of the literature (e.g., Hill, et al., 2006).

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