Category Archives: Education

All Your Best Blog Posts On That Economic Policy Institute’s Study

Ezra Klein:

“Republicans say that public-sector employees have become a privileged class that overburdened taxpayers,” write Karen Tumulty and Brady Dennis. The question, of course, is whether it’s true. Consider this analysis the Economic Policy Institute conducted comparing total compensation — that is to say, wages and health-care benefits and pensions — among public and private workers in Wisconsin. To get an apples-to-apples comparison, the study’s author controlled for experience, organizational size, gender, race, ethnicity, citizenship and disability, and then sorted the results by education

[…]

If you prefer it in non-graph form: “Wisconsin public-sector workers face an annual compensation penalty of 11%. Adjusting for the slightly fewer hours worked per week on average, these public workers still face a compensation penalty of 5% for choosing to work in the public sector.”

Jim Manzi at The American Scene:

Klein links to an executive summary to support his claim, but reading the actual paper by Jeffrey H. Keefe is instructive. Keefe took a representative sample of Wisconsin workers, and built a regression model that relates “fundamental personal characteristics and labor market skills” to compensation, and then compared public to private sector employees, after “controlling” for these factors. As far as I can see, the factors adjusted for were: years of education; years of experience; gender; race; ethnicity; disability; size of organization where the employee works; and, hours worked per year. Stripped of jargon, what Keefe asserts is that, on average, any two individuals with identical scores on each of these listed characteristics “should” be paid the same amount.

But consider Bob and Joe, two hypothetical non-disabled white males, each of whom went to work at Kohl’s Wisconsin headquarters in the summer of 2000, immediately after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. They have both remained there ever since, and each works about 50 hours per week. Bob makes $65,000 per year, and Joe makes $62,000 per year. Could you conclude that Joe is undercompensated versus Bob? Do you have enough information to know the “fundamental personal characteristics and labor market skills” of each to that degree of precision? Suppose I told you that Bob is an accountant, and Joe is a merchandise buyer.

Even if Bob and Joe are illustrative stand-ins for large groups of employees for whom idiosyncratic differences should average out, if there are systematic differences in the market realities of the skills, talents, work orientation and the like demanded by accountants as compared to buyers, then I can’t assert that either group is underpaid or overpaid because the average salary is 5% different between these two groups.

And this hypothetical example considers people with a degree from the same school working in the same industry at the same company in the same town, just in different job classifications. Keefe is considering almost any full-time employee in Wisconsin with the identical years of education, race, gender, etc. as providing labor of equivalent market value, whether they are theoretical physicists, police officers, retail store managers, accountants, salespeople, or anything else. Whether they work in Milwaukee, Madison, or a small town with a much lower cost of living. Whether their job is high-stress or low-stress. Whether they face a constant, realistic risk of being laid off any given year, or close to lifetime employment. Whether their years of education for the job are in molecular biology, or the sociology of dance. Whether they do unpredictable shift work in a factory, or 9 – 5 desk work in an office with the option to telecommute one day per week.

Keefe claims – without adjusting for an all-but infinite number of such relevant potential differences between the weight-average public sector worker and the weight-average private sector worker – that his analysis is precise enough to ascribe a 5% difference in compensation to a public sector compensation “penalty.”

And his use of the statistical tests that he claims show that the total public-private compensation gap is “statistically significant” are worse than useless; they are misleading. The whole question – as is obvious even to untrained observers – is whether or not there are material systematic differences between the public and private employee that are not captured by the list of coefficients in his regression model. His statistical tests simply assume that there are not.

I don’t know if Wisconsin’s public employees are underpaid, overpaid, or paid just right. But this study sure doesn’t answer the question.

Jason Richwine at Heritage:

Manzi is referring to “the human capital model,” which holds that workers are paid according to their skills and personal characteristics, like education and experience. Most scholars—including Andrew, myself, and Heritage’s James Sherk—use it to compare the wages of the public and private sectors. If the public sector still earns more than the private after controlling for a variety of factors, then it is said to be “overpaid” in wages. But because we cannot control for everything, Manzi is saying, the technique is not very useful.

His critique is reasonable enough, but overwrought. The human capital model has been around for three decades, and it is unlikely that economists have failed to uncover important variables that would drastically change its results. Nevertheless, there are other techniques that address most of Manzi’s concerns. An upcoming Heritage Foundation report uses a “fixed effects” approach, which follows the same people over time as they switch between the private and federal sectors. By looking at how the same person’s wage changes when he moves between sectors, a lot of unobservable traits—intelligence, extroversion, etc.—are accounted for.

In order to capture fringe benefits as well as wages, economists have also used quit rates and job queues. If public workers quit less often than private workers, we can infer (with some qualifications, of course) that there are not better options available to them. Similarly, if many more applicants apply for government jobs than there are positions—creating a “queue”—then we know that government jobs are highly desirable. Of course no methodology is perfect, but the scholarly literature can tell us a lot about pay comparisons. Andrew and I discussed this work in detail in a recent Weekly Standard article.

John Sides:

From one perspective, sure, I agree that a statistical analysis of the sort described above based on observational data can never be a true direct comparison. (Not to mention the difficulty of classifying people like me who work in the quasi-public sector.) But if you take things from the other direction, this sort of study can be valuable.

What do I mean by “the other direction,” you might ask? I mean, suppose you start, as people do, with raw numbers: Salary plus benefits = X% of the state budget. The state has Y number of employees. Average income of all Wisconsinites is Z. Then you start adjusting for hours worked, ages of the employees, etc etc, and . . . you end up with Keefe’s analysis.

My point is, people are going to make some comparisons. Comparisons aren’t so dumb as long as you realize their limitations. And once you start to compare, it makes sense to try to compare comparable cases. Taking Manzi’s criticism too strongly would leave us in the position of allowing raw numbers, and allowing pure unblemished randomized experiments, but nothing in between.

In summary:

1. Manzi’s right to emphasize that a simplistic interpretation of regression results can be misleading.

2. Regressions of observational data can be a good way of going beyond raw comparisons and averages.

Some of this discussion reminds me of the literature on the wage premium for risk, where people run regressions on salaries for comparable jobs in order to estimate how much people need to be paid to risk death or injury.. Based on my reading is that these studies can’t be trusted: if you’re not careful, you can easily estimate the value of life to be negative–after all, the riskiest jobs (lumberjack, etc.) tend to pay poorly, while the best-paying jobs (being Bill Gates, etc.) are pretty safe gigs. With care, you can get those regressions to give reasonable coefficients in the range of $1 million per life, but I don’t really see these numbers as meaning anything at all; they’re just the results of fiddling with the models until something reasonable comes out. I’m not saying that the people who do these analyses are cheating, just that they want reasonable results but the models seem too open-ended to be a good measure of risk premiums.

Jonathan Cohn at TNR:

Am I certain Keefe is right? No. Having spent some time reporting on public and private sector compensation before, I can tell you that there is a lot of disagreement over the proper way to adjust the raw compensation figures to account for variables like age, education, and so on. (The debate is as much philosophical as methodological: Some conservatives argue that public employers put an artificial premium on graduate education, effectively paying more for degrees that don’t make workers better qualified.) I haven’t seen a specific refutation of Keefe’s report on Wisconsin, but if you want to read an analysis that suggests public workers, in general, are over-compensated, Andrew Biggs of the American Enterprise Institute has done work along those lines–and has a new article in the Weekly Standard summarizing his views.

But I wonder if this whole debate misses the point. Suppose public workers really do make more than private sector workers. Who’s to say that the problem is public workers making too much, rather than private sector workers making too little?

Andrew Biggs at AEI:

While we’ll have a longer piece out on Wisconsin pay soon, I figured that in response to Cohn’s post I’d raise a couple issues regarding EPI’s report.

First, we’ve found a lower salary penalty for Wisconsin public employees than EPI did (around -5 percent versus -11 percent in EPI’s study). It’s not clear what’s driving the difference, since we’re using the same data, but that’s something to track down. It’s also worth noting that both our calculations and EPI’s control for firm size; this means that essentially we’re comparing Wisconsin public employees not to all private workers, but to employees at the very largest Wisconsin firms, who tend to pay more generous salaries and benefits. Whether to control for firm size is an open question, since if a given public employee didn’t work for the government there’s a good chance he wouldn’t work at a large private firm. But readers at least should be aware of the issue.

Second, the benefits shown in the EPI report aren’t actually for Wisconsin alone. They’re an average for the “East North Central Census Division,” which comprises Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Because the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t publish compensation data at the state level (due to small sample sizes) regional figures are the best we’ve got. The problem is, if Wisconsin government workers get relatively better benefits than public employees in other states—which seems to be part of the argument that Governor Walker is making—then these figures will understate true compensation. For instance, in practice Wisconsin public employees make essentially no contribution toward their pensions (formally they must contribute around 5 percent of pay, but their employers almost always cover it). Nationally, public employees contribute an average of around 5.7 percent of pay to their pensions.

Third, the benefit measures in the EPI study are based on what employers pay, not what employees actually receive. This matters for public-sector defined-benefit pensions, which use much more optimistic investment return assumptions than private pensions (a 7.8 percent assumed return in the Wisconsin Retirement System, versus around a 4 percent riskless return in U.S. Treasury securities) and fund their benefits accordingly. Most economists think public pensions are wrong to make these assumptions, but what matters is that employees effectively receive those higher returns whether the investments pan out or not. Adjusting for the differences in implicit returns to pensions would increase total Wisconsin compensation by around 4 percent.

Fourth, and related, is that the EPI study omits the value of retiree health benefits, which most public workers receive but most private employees don’t. (Some very large firms still offer retiree health benefits, but they’re increasingly rare and increasingly stingy.) The value of retiree healthcare can vary significantly. For instance, most run-of-the-mill Wisconsin state retirees are offered the right to buy into the employee plan. This provides an implicit subsidy, since they’re buying at rates calculated for the working-age population rather than their own health risk. The value of this is equal to a percent or so of extra pay every year. Other employees, such as Milwaukee teachers, have almost all their premiums paid for them. Actuarial reports list these protections as costing over 17 percent of salaries, meaning that for these workers EPI’s approach would miss a lot of benefit income. In addition, even these actuarial studies value retiree health coverage at employer cost, not the benefit to the employee. A retired 60-year-old purchasing coverage in the individual market would pay significantly more than the reported cost of his public-sector retiree health plan, because individual coverage costs more than group coverage. Some studies place the cost differential at around 25 percent; the Congressional Budget Office’s health insurance model appears to assume something larger: they say that “once differences in the characteristics of nongroup versus ESI [employer sponsored insurance] policyholders are considered and different loading costs are considered, a typical nongroup policy has roughly 60 percent of the relative plan value of an average ESI policy. That finding is supported by a recent survey of nongroup and ESI premiums and relative plan values in California.” So we know something is being missed and we have good reason to believe that even when we find actuarial reports calculating the cost of retiree health coverage, it’s still an underestimate. Unfortunately, there’s no central data source for retiree health benefits, meaning there’s a lot of digging to get a correct answer.

Fifth, the EPI report doesn’t calculate the value of public-sector job security. In a given year, a state/local worker has less than one-third the chance of being fired or laid off as a private worker. There’s a long history in economics (back to Adam Smith, actually) of thinking in terms of “compensating wage differentials,” although it’s only in the last 20 years or so that there’s been much progress in measuring them. We took a somewhat different approach, of using financial tools to calculate the price of an insurance policy that would protect against job loss and counting the value of that insurance toward public-sector pay. In theory each should produce the same answer, but as always things are messy. There may be a way of using CPS data to get on top of this, though.

At the end of the day, I just don’t think we can make any final conclusions on state/local pay because so much of the data, particularly on the benefits end, is still too loosey-goosey. There’s just more work to be done. (At the federal level, though, the measured overpayment is so large that I’m willing to say I’m convinced.)

Ezra Klein, responding to Manzi:

Jim Manzi has posted a critique of the Economic Policy Institute’s study (PDF) suggesting that Wisconsin’s public-sector workers are underpaid relative to their private-sector counterparts. It basically boils down to the argument that this sort of thing is hard to measure. The study controls for most every observable worker characteristic that we can imagine controlling for. But there are, Manzi says, an “all-but-infinite” number of differences beyond that. Perhaps going into the public sector says something about a person’s level of ambition, or ability to take risks and tolerate stress, or tendency to innovate — something that, in turn, makes the private-sector worker worth more or less to the economy.

And fair enough. Maybe there is some systemic difference between Hispanic women with bachelor’s degrees and 20 years of work experience who put in 52-hour weeks in the public sector and Hispanic women with bachelor’s degrees and 20 years of work experience who put in 52-hour weeks in the private sector. If anyone has some evidence for that, I’m open to hearing it. But the EPI study is aimed at a very specific and very influential claim: that Wisconsin’s state and local employees are clearly overpaid. It blows that claim up. Even in Manzi’s critique, there’s nothing left of it. So at this point, the burden of proof is on those who say Wisconsin’s public employees make too much money.

Reihan Salam on Klein’s response:

I was struck by this sentence: “Even in Manzi’s critique, there’s nothing left of it.” I’ve known Jim for many years and I’ve read just about everything he’s written, including a few things that haven’t been published. I have never seen Jim write that Wisconsin’s state and local employees are clearly overpaid, or indeed that any employees are clearly overpaid. There are many right-wingers who’ve said that, but it’s not the way Jim has ever thought about the issue as far as I know.

I don’t want to put words in Jim’s mouth, here’s what I consider a slightly more Manzian take: the problem with public sector compensation is that there is often very little clarity in terms of whether or not taxpayers are getting a good deal. One of the big reasons right-wingers are so hot for merit pay, based on my limited experience, is that they’re generally pretty comfortable with the idea of at least some public workers making much more than they are making now, provided other workers who’d be willing to work for less because they’re not likely to attract better offers are either paid less or fired.

Let me underline this point: Some public workers, like really great federal procurement officers, might very well be “underpaid,” in that they’re always on the verge of jumping ship to better opportunities, they’re stressed about money all the time when they could be using their awesome Jedi procurement skills to save taxpayers money, and we could attract other awesome people to do this job if only we weren’t such tightwads. Others might be “overpaid,” in that there are people who really like the stability of working for a “firm” that will, short of invasion and military conquest, probably exist for at least another ten years and would be open to working for a bit less money if they had no choice in the matter. Do you think we have more of the former than the latter? That’s where analyses like Keefe’s come in, to offer a rough guide to the conversation.

I would love for conservatives to do a better job of talking about public sector compensation. The basic conflict is whether we think of creating more jobs, work effort, etc., as our goal, or if our goal is to deliver a service. If the latter is our goal, we presumably want to do it in the most cost-effective way, so that we can devote our time, money, and energy to other things we like doing more. By extension, this suggests that we really do want to pay people as little as we can to get the things that we want. Or:

Reihan Salam says:

We really do want to pay people as little as we can to get the things that we want.

What a bozo!

This relentless process of delivering services and goods for less money really does destroy jobs, but, in theory at least, it allows us to create new ones. We happen to be living in a historical moment when there’s not a lot of faith in that idea, partly because we’ve seen a steady decline in labor force participation rates due to tangle of implicit marginal tax rates, an incarceration crisis, interrelated social pathologies, and much else. I’m biased in favor of believing that we will create new job opportunities because almost everyone I’m close to works in jobs that they could not have done in the way they do them now even ten years ago. The goal is to use good public policy to bridge over transitional periods, and, by the way, a dynamic market economy is always in a transitional period.

Manzi responds to Klein:

Klein is correct to say that my post “basically boils down to the argument that this sort of thing is hard to measure.” But he then argues that the purpose of the original study was not to demonstrate that public sector workers are underpaid, but rather to rebut the claim that they are overpaid:

[T]he EPI study is aimed at a very specific and very influential claim: that Wisconsin’s state and local employees are clearly overpaid. It blows that claim up.

That may have been the author’s motivation, but here is the final conclusion of the executive summary of the report:

[P]ublic sector workers in Wisconsin earn less in annual or hourly compensation than they would earn in the private sector.

The report makes a positive claim that it has determined a compensation “penalty” for working in the public sector, and repeats it many times. My argument was that this report does not establish whether or not this claim is true.

By the same logic, it also fails to “blow up” the claim that Wisconsin’s public workers are overpaid. The methodology is inadequate to the task of establishing whether these workers are overpaid, underpaid, or paid perfectly. As the last paragraph of my post put it:

I don’t know if Wisconsin’s public employees are underpaid, overpaid, or paid just right. But this study sure doesn’t answer the question.

Statistician and political scientist Andrew Gelman has a very interesting response to my post, in which he agrees that this conclusion “sounds about right,” but cautions that the study is not “completely useless either” because this kind of adjusted comparison is better than simply comparing raw averages between public and private sector workers. I agree with that entirely. But that is, of course, a very different thing than saying that these adjustments create sufficient precision to support the bald statement, made in the report, that the author has analytically established that there is a “penalty” for working in the public sector.

Megan McArdle:

It’s obvious that this study doesn’t control for everything we can imagine, because it doesn’t even control for the matters that are of central dispute in Wisconsin: protection from being fired.  This is, as people on both sides keep noting, so extraordinarily valuable that workers are willing to give up quite a lot to get it.  And of course, a job that offers this sort of protection is likely to attract workers who especially value it.  All government jobs offer this perk, which is valuable to the workers and costly to the employers; ceteris paribus, I’d expect that other compensation would be lower to compensate.

Obviously, it also doesn’t control in any way for other job or worker characteristics that effect compensation; jobs working for state and local government are systematically different from other sorts of jobs, because so much of what the government does isn’t done by anyone else.  Though, oddly, for the teachers at the heart of this dispute, we do have a good comparison: private school teachers. And as I understand it, public school teachers have higher wages, and much better benefits, than private school teachers.
To which I expect the union’s boosters will say, “But jobs in private school are much more enjoyable–they don’t have to teach the difficult kids!”  Indeed, they’re right.  Which is exactly the point: there’s huge unobserved variable bias here.
There’s also the fact that the EPI study seems to be looking at means, which are going to be dragged upwards by a small number of highly compensated workers, particularly in the educated group.  But state and local wages are capped.  Meanwhile, some of the highest paid jobs in the private sector are in areas like commission sales, which have no counterpart in government. That means that the median worker is probably making much more than the median worker in the private sector.  This may not be true in some lucrative fields such as law and medicine–but even there, we tend to compare government lawyers to the highly paid people at white shoe firms or corporations, not the legions of struggling will-drafters and ambulance-chasers.
You can argue, of course, that this is an ideologically much more attractive income distribution.  Which highlights, I think, the core difference between the way people like Manzi and I look at this, and the way that progressives do.  I don’t think of state employment as a way to create, in miniature, my ideal labor utopia.  I think of it as a way to procure services.  I define people as being “overpaid” not if they are paid more than someone with a similar level of education, but if they are paid more than I need to entice to pay to attract adequate workers.  To analyze that, looking at medians is probably somewhat more instructive than looking at means.
Of course I agree with Manzi that this still doesn’t really tell us whether state workers are overpaid, underpaid, or just-right-paid.  I suspect that the answer is probably “both”–adjusting for worker quality, the median government worker is probably overpaid, while in skilled specialties, salaries are probably not attracting as much of the top-flight talent as we’d ideally like.  (This is why I have been advocating, futilely, that we make it possible to pay SEC employees multiples of what the President of the United States makes.)  But as Manzi, who does this stuff for a living, will undoubtedly tell you, setting compensation is a really hard problem that no one’s got a very good handle on.  So that’s just a suspicion, based on my experience of state bureaucracies, and my best guess at the incentive effects of the current structure.  I don’t have enough data to back me up.  And neither does EPI.
More Manzi:

Have I then set up a nihilistic position that we can never know anything tolerably well because I can just keep raising these points that might matter, but are not included in the model? In effect, have I put any analyst in the impossible position of proving a negative? Not really. Here’s how you measure the accuracy of a model like this without accepting its internal assumptions: use it to make predictions for future real world experiments, and then see if its predictions are right or not. The formal name for this is falsification testing. This is what’s lacking in all of the referenced arguments in support of these models.

Human capital models, fixed effects models, and other various pattern-finding analyses are useful to help build theories, but a metaphysical debate about the “worth” of various public versus private sector jobs based upon them is fundamentally unproductive. For one thing, it won’t ever end. And as Megan McArdle correctly put it, the practical question in front of us is whether we the taxpayers can procure the public work that we want at a lower cost (or more generally, though less euphoniously, whether we are at the practical optimum on the cost-quality trade-off). If you want an analytical answer to this question, here is what I would do: randomly select some jurisdictions, job classifications or other subsets of public workers, cut their compensation, and then see if we can observe a material reduction in net value of output in these areas versus the control areas. If not, cut deeper. And keep cutting deeper, until we find our indifference point.

There would be obvious limitations to this approach. First, generalizing the results of initial experiments is not straightforward. Second evaluating output is not straightforward for many areas of government. But at a minimum, and unlike the world of endlessly dueling regressions, this would at least let us see the real-world effects of various public compensation levels first-hand, and allow the public to make an informed decision about whether they prefer the net effect of a change to public sector compensation or not.

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Talkin’ About Adding The Value

Grace Snodgrass at Huffington Post:

One day soon, my name and performance evaluation could be printed in your morning newspaper. It will tell you that I’m a teacher who has clear strengths and weaknesses in helping my students advance academically.

But as valuable as my so-called “Teacher Data Report” is in helping me identify these areas, it really doesn’t say much about the overall quality of my teaching. And printing the results — as an NYC judge just gave the city the right to do — will do little to make me, or any of my colleagues, better teachers. At least, not right away. What will help is the Department of Education and the teachers’ union putting aside their differences and improving these reports so that teachers like me receive good information about our performance and clear steps towards achieving our classroom goals.

As an educator, I want to be evaluated. I know that my students’ success hinges on the quality of my teaching. The Department of Education is actually on the right track with the “value-added” method it uses to calculate the impact teachers have on their students’ academic growth. Value-added compares a student’s predicted performance on standardized assessments with how he or she actually performs.

Dana Goldstein and Megan McArdle on Bloggingheads

Jim Manzi at The Corner:

Recently, Megan McArdle and Dana Goldstein had a very interesting Bloggingheads discussion that was mostly about teacher evaluations. They referenced some widely discussed attempts to evaluate teacher performance using what is called “value-added.” This is a very hot topic in education right now. Roughly speaking, it refers to evaluating teacher performance by measuring the average change in standardized test scores for the students in a given teacher’s class from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, rather than simply measuring their scores. The rationale is that this is an effective way to adjust for different teachers being confronted with students of differing abilities and environments.

This seems like a broadly sensible idea as far as it goes, but consider that the real formula for calculating such a score in a typical teacher value-added evaluation system is not “Average math + reading score at end of year – average math reading score at beginning of year,” but rather a very involved regression equation. What this reflects is real complexity, which has a number of sources. First, at the most basic level, teaching is an inherently complex activity. Second, differences between students are not unvarying across time and subject matter. How do we know that Johnny, who was 20 percent better at learning math than Betty in 3rd grade is not relatively more or less advantaged in learning reading in fourth grade? Third, an individual person-year of classroom education is executed as part of a collective enterprise with shared contributions. Teacher X had special needs assistant 1 work with her class, and teacher Y had special needs assistant 2 working with his class — how do we disentangle the effects of the teacher versus the special ed assistant? Fourth, teaching has effects that continue beyond that school year. For example, how do we know if teacher X got a great gain in scores for students in third grade by using techniques that made them less prepared for fourth grade, or vice versa for teacher Y? The argument behind complicated evaluation scoring systems is that they untangle this complexity sufficiently to measure teacher performance with imperfect but tolerable accuracy.

Any successful company that I have ever seen employs some kind of a serious system for evaluating and rewarding / punishing employee performance. But if we think of teaching in these terms — as a job like many others, rather than some sui generis activity — then I think that the hopes put forward for such a system by its advocates are somewhat overblown.

There are some job categories that have a set of characteristics that lend themselves to these kinds of quantitative “value added” evaluations. Typically, they have hundreds or thousands of employees in a common job classification operating in separated local environments without moment-to-moment supervision; the differences in these environments make simple output comparisons unfair; the job is reasonably complex; and, often the performance of any one person will have some indirect, but material, influence on the performance of others over time. Think of trying to manage an industrial sales force of 2,000 salespeople, or the store managers for a chain of 1,000 retail outlets. There is a natural tendency in such situations for analytical headquarters types to say “Look, we need some way to measure performance in each store / territory / office, so let’s build a model that adjusts for inherent differences, and then do evaluations on these adjusted scores.”

I’ve seen a number of such analytically-driven evaluation efforts up close. They usually fail. By far the most common result that I have seen is that operational managers muscle through use of this tool in the first year of evaluations, and then give up on it by year two in the face of open revolt by the evaluated employees. This revolt is based partially on veiled self-interest (no matter what they say in response to surveys, most people resist being held objectively accountable for results), but is also partially based on the inability of the system designers to meet the legitimate challenges raised by the employees.

Noah Millman at The American Scene:

I do want to add a few additional points of my own:

1. Evaluations establish the principle that there is such a thing as performance in the first place. A great deal of discussion nowadays in education revolves around the idea that what we need to “fix the schools” is great teachers. But if that’s what we need, we’ll never do it. What we need, instead, are mechanisms for getting marginally better performance, year after year, from a teaching pool that remains merely adequate.

One bit of low-hanging fruit for achieving that goal, meanwhile, is the ability to dismiss the bottom 5% of teachers in terms of performance. Not only are these teachers failing comprehensively in their own classrooms, but their mere presence has a corrosive effect on an entire organization – on the teachers, on the students, on the management of the school. But right now, firing these teachers is essentially impossible. For all the difficulty of doing a rigorous evaluation in order to improve teaching performance across the board, I suspect it is a whole lot easier to identify the worst teachers in the school. If that could be done, the pressure to be able to terminate them would be significant, and that could do a lot to improve school performance right there.

2. Value-added metrics wind up punishing perfectly good but not spectacular schools with above-average student bodies. It may be that these schools should suffer reputationally, because the staff is not actually delivering as much value as they should. But high-stakes standardized testing actually pushes these schools to destroy themselves, wiping out the programs that actually do deliver value to these high-aptitude students and instead focusing on teaching to the tests.

That’s not an argument against using value-added metrics as such. It’s an argument that they need to be used intelligently, with some understanding of what “value-added” means at different points on the performance spectrum. But that, in turn, would require admitting that different standards are needed for students with different aptitude, which, in turn, is extremely difficult for our education system to admit. (And, admittedly, it’s a problem in corporate cultures that cross widely different customer bases as well. How well would Wal-Mart manage Tiffany?)

3. Nobody goes into teaching “for the money” – that is to say, teachers in aggregate make significantly less than people with their educational credentials and academic aptitude could make in other professions. So monetary rewards are useful primarily going to prove useful as signaling devices. There’s a lot of evidence coming in from high-performance charter schools suggesting that a monetary reward system tied too closely to evaluations actually degrades performance, because it gets teachers focused on the evaluations rather than on the performance. The evaluations should primarily be used as a diagnostic, to identify correctable deficiencies in teacher performance so they can be corrected through staff development, and to identify gross deficiencies in teacher performance so the teachers in question can be dismissed.

4. Similarly, across a system, what evaluations are useful is for research purposes and to drive market discipline. Evaluations of a school should be very useful to parents seeking to select a school for their child. Schools that consistently achieve high valuations (particularly for value-added metrics) should be objects of study by administrators and others looking to replicate that performance in lower-performing but still basically well-run schools. The least-important use of the evaluation is to directly “reward” or “punish” a school bureaucratically – and, indeed, if that becomes the primary use then the school is likely to start focusing overwhelmingly on the evaluation process and lose sight of actual performance. I’ve seen this happen over and over in New York City schools; it’s not a theoretical question.

Conor Friedersdorf at Sullivan’s place:

And it helps explain the inherent tension between teachers unions and the rest of us. Unions exist to protect the interests of their members. Even in the best case scenario, that means lobbying for an evaluation system that maximizes fairness to the people being evaluated. As citizens, our primary goal should be creating the best education system possible, even if doing so sometimes means (for example) that the teacher most desserving of a bonus doesn’t get one. Saying that there is a conflict between the common good and the ends of teachers unions isn’t a condemnation of the latter. It’s just a fact. And everyone seems to understand the basic concept if you talk about prison guard unions.

Reihan Salam:

Part of what makes me nervous is that productivity varies dramatically within industries. It is very common for comparable factories at the 90th percentile produce four times as much as factories at the 10th percentile. Moreover, the scorecards and shortcuts used by factories at the 90th percentile wouldn’t necessarily work for those at the 10th percentile. Managerial insights are usually embedded in a complex tangle on personalities and practices that can’t easily be replicated. This is natural, and I’d say that I’d much rather see a few firms race ahead than allow all firms to remain mired at the low end of the productivity spectrum.  Suffice it to say, this is not the ethic that governs how we generally think about public schools.

In a time when at least half of the political spectrum is deeply troubled by inequality, i.e., by the fact that some firms, individuals, and households are racing far ahead of others, what at least some education reformers are saying is that we want to unleash a few inventive, well-managed schools to start deploying the same per pupil resources to much greater effect. That is, we want to, in the short run at least, make the K-12 educational landscape more unequal, in the hope that leading schools will identify instructional methods, e.g., effective virtual instruction, that will prove scalable.

Much depends on how one interprets the fact that some firms, individuals, and households are racing ahead of the others. I take what I think of as a nuanced view. Generally speaking, some firms, individuals, and households race ahead of others due to a combination of luck, opportunity, and smart investments in organizational capital. In some cases, we see rent-seeking, tax and regulatory arbitrage, etc. But whereas Simon Johnson and many of my friends on the left see this as the dominant narrative, I see it as a significant but nevertheless relatively small part of the wage dispersion story.

Nicholas Bloom and John Van Reenen have written a neat essay in the Journal of Economic Perspectives on how effective management practices spread. I was struck by many of their observations, including some that will be familiar to those of you who see organizational capital as very important (“firms that more intensively use human capital, as measured by more educated workers, tend to have much better management practices”).

The United States has a commanding lead in terms of the quality of management in firms. This is very interesting considering our relative weakness in terms of educational attainment at the median in the prime-age cohorts. And I suspect that this feeds back into wage dispersion as well as assortative mating, family breakdown, and other sources of “stickiness” at the low end of the income distribution. For a variety of reasons, our economy is rewarding people with managerial skills, and, in a crude sense, one might be able to extrapolate the ability to manage a wide range of tasks in the workplace to the ability to maintain constructive relationships in other domains. The obvious objection is that many hard-charging executives neglect their families and personal lives, etc. But it could also be true that the that neglect of parental responsibilities is somewhat more common among those marginally attached to the labor force, due to the greater prevalence of substance abuse and other risky behaviors.

Jonathan Chait at TNR on Manzi:

That’s an interesting insight into the general problem with quantitative measures. Here are a few points in response:

1. You need some system for deciding how to compensate teachers. Merit pay may not be perfect, but tenure plus single-track longevity-based pay is really, really imperfect. Manzi doesn’t say that better systems for measuring teachers are futile, but he’s a little too fatalistic about their potential to improve upon a very badly designed status quo.

2. Manzi’s description…

evaluating teacher performance by measuring the average change in standardized test scores for the students in a given teacher’s class from the beginning of the year to the end of the year, rather than simply measuring their scores. The rationale is that this is an effective way to adjust for different teachers being confronted with students of differing abilities and environments.

..implies that quantitative measures are being used as the entire system to evaluate teachers. In fact, no state uses such measures for any more than half of the evaluation. The other half involves subjective human evaluations.

3. In general, he’s fitting this issue into his “progressives are too optimistic about the potential to rationalize policy” frame. I think that frame is useful — indeed, of all the conservative perspectives on public policy, it’s probably the one liberals should take most seriously. But when you combine the fact that the status quo system is demonstrably terrible, that nobody is trying to devise a formula to control the entire teacher evaluation process, and that nobody is promising the “silver bullet” he assures us doesn’t exist, his argument has a bit of a straw man quality.

Manzi responds to Chait:

My post wasn’t about if we should use quantitative measures of improvement in their students’ standardized test scores as an element of how we evaluate, compensate, manage and retain teachers, but rather about how to do this.

Two of the key points that I tried to make are that the metrics themselves should likely be much simpler than those currently developed by economics PhDs, and that such an evaluation system is only likely to work if embedded within a program of management reform for schools and school systems. The bulk of the post was trying to explain why I believe these assertions to be true.

An additional point that I mentioned in passing is my skepticism that such management reform will really happen in the absence of market pressures on schools. Continuous management reform, sustained over decades, that gets organizations to take difficult and unpleasant actions with employees is very hard to achieve without them. There’s nothing magic about teachers or schools. The same problems with evaluation and other management issues that plague them arise in big companies all the time. It’s only the ugly reality of market discipline that keeps them in check.

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“The ‘Tribe-Moral Community’ United By ‘Sacred Values'”

John Tierney at NYT:

Some of the world’s pre-eminent experts on bias discovered an unexpected form of it at their annual meeting.

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

Instapundit

Ann Althouse:

But let’s skip into the middle of the piece and think about the mechanisms of exclusion, these “sacred values” that displace scientific thinking. Haidt notes the example of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, back in 1965, who “warned about the rise of unmarried parenthood and welfare dependency among blacks” and “was shunned by many of his colleagues at Harvard as racist.”

Similarly, Larry Summers, then president of Harvard, was ostracized in 2005 for wondering publicly whether the preponderance of male professors in some top math and science departments might be due partly to the larger variance in I.Q. scores among men (meaning there are more men at the very high and very low ends). “This was not a permissible hypothesis,” Dr. Haidt said. “It blamed the victims rather than the powerful. The outrage ultimately led to his resignation. We psychologists should have been outraged by the outrage. We should have defended his right to think freely.”

According to Tierney, Haidt’s audience of social psychologists “seemed refreshingly receptive to his argument.”

A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10 percent conservative by 2020.

Affirmative action? Why not just stop giving affirmative action to liberals? I think that would get you way above the 10% quota… if you could do it. Ironically, talking “affirmative action” is inherently off-putting to conservatives. It’s more of those sacred values from the tribal-moral community that ward off outsiders.

Steven Hayward at Powerline:

I have a good friend–I won’t name out him here though–who is a tenured faculty member in a premier humanities department at a leading east coast university, and he’s . . . a conservative! How did he slip by the PC police? Simple: he kept his head down in graduate school and as a junior faculty member, practicing self-censorship and publishing boring journal articles that said little or nothing. When he finally got tenure review, he told his closest friend on the faculty, sotto voce, that “Actually I’m a Republican.” His faculty friend, similarly sotto voce, said, “Really? I’m a Republican, too!”

That’s the scandalous state of things in American universities today. Here and there–Hillsdale College, George Mason Law School, Ashland University come to mind–the administration is able to hire first rate conservative scholars at below market rates because they are actively discriminated against at probably 90 percent of American colleges and universities. Other universities will tolerate a token conservative, but having a second conservative in a department is beyond the pale.

John Derbyshire at The Corner:

What’s to be done? Get ’em reading National Review!

To overcome taboos, he advised them to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions.

By a friendly little coincidence, the current issue of National Review contains a feature article on Prof. Sowell.

Some said [Haidt] overstated how liberal the field is, but many agreed it should welcome more ideological diversity. A few even endorsed his call for a new affirmative-action goal: a membership that’s 10 percent conservative by 2020.

Ten percent by 2020? Hey, let’s not go overboard here, guys.

[And never mind Queer Literary Theory: If I’d been writing a few days later I could have cited Gay Math.]

[And-and, I should qualify having said “the New York Times of all places” with a word of tribute to their excellent Science section, which routinely publishes results from the human sciences that would cause apoplexy among the newspaper’s op-ed writers, if they bothered to read them.]

Ronald Bailey at Reason:

Haidt has given me a look at a good bit of the manuscript of his new book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (January, 2012), and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about it.

I earlier wrote about some of the recent research that Haidt and his colleagues have done on The Science of Libertarian Morality. If interested, see how liberal social science bias works when it comes to demonizing conservatives in my 2004 column, Pathologizing Conservatism.

One more story, I was invited to speak at a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship seminar at MIT a few years ago. After I gave my spiel, we got to talking about for whom the 12 or so journalists were planning to vote in the upcoming 2000 election. As I remember it, the vote split 9 for Gore and 3 for Nader. I joked that perhaps the Knight program should invite me to join it for reasons of diversity. The puzzled head of program blurted out, “But you’re a white male!” I gently explained that I meant ideological diversity. He (also a white male) had the grace to look chagrined.

Megan McArdle

James Joyner:

That the university professoriate, particularly at elite institutions, is radically more liberal than the society at large is undisputed. The causes for the phenomenon are hotly debated.

Presumably, Haidt’s assertion that this lack of diversity skews research findings — and even acceptable topics for research — is more controversial. But it shouldn’t be. After all, it’s widely accepted within the academy, particularly the social sciences, that the longtime domination of the field by white males had that effect.

But it’s far from clear what to do about it. Women and racial minorities were actively discriminated against while the bias against conservatives is subtle and largely unconscious. Indeed, the fact that their professors are liberals who show disdain for conservative values doubtless discourages conservatives from pursuing the academic career path.

Should there be active outreach to conservatives? Maybe, although I’m dubious. Should liberal professors undergo sensitivity training in order to learn not to offend conservative students? Probably not.

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Teachers Grade The Students And The Paper Grades The Teachers

Heather Horn at The Atlantic with a round-up

Los Angeles Times:

Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers — something the district could do but has not.

The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students’ progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student’s performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.

Though controversial among teachers and others, the method has been increasingly embraced by education leaders and policymakers across the country, including the Obama administration.

In coming months, The Times will publish a series of articles and a database analyzing individual teachers’ effectiveness in the nation’s second-largest school district — the first time, experts say, such information has been made public anywhere in the country.

This article examines the performance of more than 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers for whom reliable data were available.

Huffington Post:

The United Teachers of Los Angeles was quick to blast the Times for their report, according to SCPR:

Unfair, said a statement released by the United Teachers of Los Angeles today. “It is the height of journalistic irresponsibility to make public these deeply flawed judgments about a teachers effectiveness,” it said.”The database will cause chaos at school sites, as parents scramble to get their children into classes taught by teachers labeled as `effective’ by a newspaper — not by education professionals,” UTLA said, emphasizing the word “newspaper” in italics. The union said the result is a public, incomplete and
inaccurate picture of a teacher’s effectiveness.

Chad Aldeman at The Quick and The Ed:

Have pity on the individual teachers for this public outing, but, at the same time, don’t blame the Times for what they’re doing. The teachers union has pressured the district against using value-added measures in teacher performance evaluations, and only now are they moving forward together. The district has been complicit for years, and then took the easy way out and gave the data to a newspaper. And, in an ironic twist of fate, the newspaper could publish the value-added results precisely because they were not part of teacher personnel files. Those are private and cannot be released publicly.

In contrast, Tennessee has been using a value-added model since the late 1980’s, and every year since the mid-1990’s every single eligible teacher has received a report on their results. When these results were first introduced, teachers were explicitly told their results would never be published in newspapers and that the data may be used in evaluations. In reality, they had never really been used in evaluations until the state passed a law last January requiring the data to make up 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. This bill, and 100% teacher support for the state’s Race to the Top application that included it, was a key reason the state won a $500 million grant in the first round.

Tennessee is a good comparison, because here is a place with longstanding, low-stakes use of the data. The data will now have much higher stakes attached to it, but there wasn’t nearly the acrimony that’s happening now in LA. That’s because, to a large extent, LAUSD has sat on this information for so long without doing anything with it. Kudos to the intrepid reporter for digging it out and making a story of it, but the fact that it’s been buried for so long and is only seeing the light of day in this manner has made it that much more controversial. LAUSD could’ve avoided all the headache by doing something with the data themselves years ago. That should’ve started with letting the teachers see their own data, because they are interested in it. The teachers quoted in the Times articles and the 2,000+ teacher requests the newspaper has received since the story’s release suggest that teachers do want to know how they perform on these measures.

Instead of a methodical process where teachers slowly become used to seeing their data and therefore comfortable with its use, LA now has a situation where many people are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the data at the same time there’s suddenly pent-up demand from teachers, parents, and the public to see it.

Sherman Dorn:

When researchers show distributions of scores, they often show error bands to indicate “the inherent imprecision,” as Felch, Strong, and Smith wrote. For example, see the following figure from a 2000 paper by Kenneth Rowe on value-added measures: Graph of schools with value-added point estimates and 95% confidence intervals, showing significant overlapThe point here is that showing imprecision is easy to do in a way that is professionally competent.  Is that what the L.A. Times shows in its database? Here’s the chart for one teacher:

Sample chart from L.A. TimesThere are two graphing sins here: dequantification and an implication that the estimate for the teacher is infinitely accurate (or at least as accurate as the center of the diamond images). I don’t know what the Times editors and reporters thought they were doing by eliminating a scale, but this doesn’t remove the central problem of visually implying that the estimate of effectiveness is precise. Instead, it commits the sin of dequantification. To borrow from Edward Tufte, is the L.A. Times’ publication of these figures an act of reporting or finger-painting?

It also raises significant questions about the response to Jay Matthews. Was the Times deliberately trying to fudge what they were intending to do with the graphs, or are they really so incompetent an organization that they don’t have people who know how to design statistical figures and also didn’t check such a high-stakes display with people who do this professionally?

Sara Mead at Education Week:

The reality is that, even as value-added student test score data has emerged as the center of current debates over teacher evaluation, it’s only available and relevant for a fraction of the teachers in our public schools today. There is currently no value-added data for kindergarten and early elementary teachers, teachers in non-core subjects, or high school teachers in most places. My brother-in-law, who teaches middle school band and drama, and sister, who teaches high school composition and literature, do not have value-added data.

Some critics see this as an argument against new teacher evaluation systems that incorporate data on student performance. I see it the opposite way: The way we currently evaluate teachers is deeply flawed, not helpful to them or students, and there are lots of things we could do to move towards a more effective system of evaluating and developing teachers. Where we have value-added data as a source of information to inform teacher evaluations, we should use it. But since it’s only available for a subset of teachers, and therefore only a small piece of any meaningful solution to teach evaluation, we shouldn’t let debate over value-added or the various methodologies derail the broader effort to create better ways of evaluating teachers’ effectiveness and using that data to inform professional development and staffing decisions. We also shouldn’t pretend–as I sometimes fear my reform colleagues do–that value-added data is some kind of magic panacea that provides perfect information about teacher effectiveness. And we should put a lot more effort into developing and using validated and reliable observational tools, such as the Classroom Assessment Scoring System (CLASS), that look at teacher classroom behaviors and measure the extent to which teachers are implementing behaviors linked to improved student outcomes. (I’m even more concerned that the observational rubrics many districts and states will put into place under their proposed evaluation systems have not yet been validated than I am with any of the issues related to use of value-added data.)

Jack Shafer at Slate:

These conclusions are so sensible, so obvious, so intuitive that only a union official or education bureaucrat could possibly dispute them. Oh, the Economic Policy Institute took its shot, calling teacher assessment based on standardized-test results just “one piece of information” used in a “comprehensive evaluation.”

By doing something LAUSD should have done in the first place, the Times had shamed the cowardly school district into performing its own “value-added analysis” of the data. So far, so good. But what does the school district intend to do with these scores? Release them to the public? No. It’s going to dispense them confidentially to teachers in the fall. For all the good that will do parents and teachers, why doesn’t the school district play ostrich and dig a big hole in Playa del Rey and bury the scores?

Let’s hope the Times stays on this story—and that it or some other publication uses the California Public Records Act to publish these new, LAUSD-generated scores. If you can’t grade the graders, whom can you grade?

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Bringing Out The Hockey Sticks At The End Of August

Rosalind Helderman at The Washington Post:

An Albemarle County Circuit Court judge has set aside a subpoena issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to the University of Virginia seeking documents related to the work of climate scientist and former university professor Michael Mann.

Judge Paul M. Peatross Jr. ruled that Cuccinelli can investigate whether fraud has occurred in university grants, as the attorney general had contended, but ruled that Cuccinelli’s subpoena failed to state a “reason to believe” that Mann had committed fraud.

The ruling is a major blow for Cuccinelli, a global warming skeptic who had maintained that he was investigating whether Mann committed fraud in seeking government money for research that showed that the earth has experienced a rapid, recent warming. Mann, now at Penn State University, worked at U-Va. until 2005.

According to Peatross, the Virginia Fraud Against Taxpayers Act, under which the civil investigative demand was issued, requires that the attorney general include an “objective basis” to believe that fraud has been committed. Peatross indicates that the attorney general must state the reason so that it can be reviewed by a court, which Cuccinelli failed to do.

Peatross set the subpoena aside without prejudice, meaning Cuccinelli could give the subpoena another try by rewriting the civil demand to better explain the conduct he wishes to investigate. But the judge seemed skeptical of Cuccinelli’s underlying claim about Mann, noting that Cuccinelli’s deputy maintained in a court hearing that the nature of Mann’s fraud was described in subsequent court papers in the case.

Jillian Rayfield at TPM:

Mann, who now works at Penn State University, left UVA in 2005. As TPM previously reported, Mann was one of several climate change researchers who were connected to the “Climate-Gate” emails that “showed some scientists discussing ways to keep views skeptical of global warming out of peer-reviewed journals, among other things.”

Three major UK investigations have since exonerated the “Climate-Gate” scientists of any wrongdoing. Mann himself was additionally let off the hook after an investigation by his employer, Penn State.

Cuccinelli’s probe had been denounced by climate change believers and skeptics alike as a “witch hunt” and a threat to academic freedom.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress:

Mann is one of America’s top climatologists.  Few if any climate scientists in the world have been as falsely accused — and thoroughly vindicated — over both their academic practices and scientific results as Dr. Michael Mann (see Much-vindicated Michael Mann and Hockey Stick get final exoneration from Penn State — time for some major media apologies and retractions and Final ‘forensic’ UK report on emails vindicates climate science and research underlying the Hockey Stick).

Here is Dr. Mann’s response to this ruling:

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Race To The Unemployment Office

New Jersey Online:

Gov. Chris Christie fired state education commissioner Bret Schundler this morning after Schundler refused to resign in the wake of the controversy over the state’s loss of up to $400 million in federal school funding.

“I was extremely disappointed to learn that the videotape of the Race to the Top presentation was not consistent with the information provided to me,” Christie said in a press release. “As a result, I ordered an end to Bret Schundler’s service as New Jersey’s Education Commissioner and as a member of my administration.”

A deputy commissioner will be named acting commissioner while the governor searches for the next person to fill the $141,000-a-year position, two officials briefed on the situation said.

Rich Bagger, Christie’s chief of staff, asked Schundler to resign on Thursday evening because he “misled” the governor and senior staff about what happened during a presentation in Washington, D.C., the officials said.

On Wednesday, Christie publicly said Schundler had tried to give the correct information to a bungled question during the presentation, but video from the U.S. Department of Education released Thursday proved that did not happen.

John McCormack at The Weekly Standard:

Upon posting the YouTube clip yesterday of a Chris Christie press conference, I remarked how Christie had impressively turned the tables on an issue that could have embarrassed him. A clerical error by his education department–failing to list 2008-2009 funding levels–resulted in the loss of $400 million in federal education funding. Why, Christie asked, didn’t an Obama administration bureaucrat just pick up the phone and ask New Jersey’s education department for the right number?

Well, NJ.com reports, it turns out the feds asked Christie’s education director for the number in person, and he failed to correct the application

Ed Morrissey:

Christie had relied on Schundler’s insistence that his team had provided the data to the Obama administration to blast the White House for being too rigid about paperwork rather than relying on the data.  The Department of Education responded by publishing the review video, putting Christie in a tough spot.  He had little choice but to give a strong reaction to the revelation.

Not that Schundler didn’t deserve it, if the evidence is complete.  Not only did his team botch the presentation, he apparently deceived his boss about the situation rather than just admit to the error.  Executives can deal with failure, but deception is another thing entirely.  If an executive can’t trust his staff, then he or she has to find replacements more worthy of trust.  That’s probably more true in politics than in the private sector, but it’s true enough in all arenas to know that Schundler couldn’t expect to keep his job after this.

By taking action, Christie can minimize the embarrassment, but it’s not going to be an overall plus for him; it will just limit the damage and bring the incident to a swift conclusion.

The Rachel Maddow Show Blog:

The Star-Ledger further explains,

Ousted state Education Commissioner Bret Schundler today said he asked Gov. Chris Christie to be fired from the work he considered his “life’s dream,” rather than resign, so he could receive unemployment benefits to pay his bills.

Apparently Schundler, “once hailed as a rising star in conservative circles,” has gained a new appreciation for taking advantage of federal assistance.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo:

Back in the day Brett Schundler was the rising star of the NJ GOP, making his mark as the uber-conservative Mayor heavily Democratic Jersey City. He made his name in the ‘cut every benefit cut every everything’ wing of the party.

But today when Gov. Christie (R) asked him for his resignation as state Ed Commissioner result of errors and misrepresentations from Schundler in a matter costing the state $400 million in federal “Race to the Top” money he asked if he could be fired instead so he could collect unemployment benefits.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

Schundler is the former mayor of Jersey City (a Democratic city) and a candidate for Governor in 2001.

Christie does hold Schundler accountable for what he calls “lying to me,” but hasn’t held himself accountable for publicly siding with Schundler before getting independent verification of the facts. As the Star-Ledger editorial board says, “Schundler may not be at fault in this latest episode. The governor is the one who made the false claim.”

But accountability doesn’t reach to the top, at least not in New Jersey.

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In The Old Days, Bob Dylan Would Write A Song About This

Nate Jones at Time:

Students at Nettleton Middle School must be doing great on their American History exams, because their school is almost literally living in the past!

Segregation is still alive and well in parts of America. At Nettleton Middle School in Nettleton, MS, students are forbidden from running for certain student government positions if their skin is the wrong color. Each year, three of the the four executive positions are set aside for white students; one of the four is set aside for a black student. The highest rank a black student can hold? Vice-President, in 8th grade.

Even worse is the situation for students who are neither black nor white, who cannot apparently run for any office.

The policy was busted by the mother of a mixed-race student who had wanted to be class reporter, a position reserved for black students. As the mother, Brandy Springer, wrote to the blog Mixed and Happy, her daughter was denied on the basis of her matrilineal whiteness. When Springer complained to the school board, she says:

“They told me that they ‘Go by the mother’s race [because] with minorities the father isn’t generally in the home.’ They also told me that ‘a city court order is the reason why it is this way.'”

But don’t think the school is racist! The district has posted a statement on the policy, saying it is “under review.” Well, glad that’s solved

Irin Carmon at Jezebel:

If we still have segregated proms in the American South, including in Mississippi, why not segregated middle school elections? Welcome to Nettleton Middle School, where not only are class elections segregated, but the president slots are designated for white students.

But even segregated proms have an apparent black equivalent. In this middle school class officers election, there’s no pretense of separate but equal: The highest a black student can aspire to is vice president of just one of the classes. Because it’s not like a black person can be president or anything!

Jamelle Bouie at Tapped:

This is what I mean when I say that we’re only 40 years removed from the civil-rights movement. These attitudes took generations to materialize, and while we’ve come a long way, it’s unreasonable to expect that they’ll disappear in a few decades. On the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic march on Washington, racism isn’t as bad as it was, but it’s not an abstraction, and it’s not a thing of the past.

Joanne Jacobs:

The school, which has a black principal, is 74 percent white and 26 percent black. I suspect the policy was written to ensure that blacks would win a share of class offices. And it will be dropped like a rock very quickly.

Once the policy went public, the superintendent put up a statement saying “the processes and procedures for student elections are under review.”

As bizarre as it seems, the intent was doubtless benign. As Joanne Jacobs points out, the school’s principle is black and the school “is 74 percent white and 26 percent black.” The intent, rather clearly, was to ensure that at least one black officer was elected per class.

I’m not sure what’s more interesting: That this has been going on for “more than 30 years” and people are just now complaining or that it was started 30-odd years ago. Presuming “more than 30″ doesn’t mean “almost 40,” that means this policy started in the late 1970s — years after official segregation ended.

Then again, I was slightly befuddled that the Alabama high school from which I graduated in 1984 and to which I transferred in 1980 had a “minority” spot in the Homecoming Court. A black girl could theoretically have been elected Homecoming Queen, since there was no rule that she be white (Yes: In those days, it was presumed she’d be a she and have always been one) there was a guarantee that at least one would be represented. Since we never had more than one or two black girls in our class, it was rather surreal.

Huffington Post:

MSNBC reports that the school board for Nettleton Middle school met in an emergency session today and voted to reverse its policy of apportioning student council positions by race:

“It is the belief of the current administration that these procedures were implemented to help ensure minority representation and involvement in the student body,” Superintendent Russell Taylor said in a statement.
“Therefore, beginning immediately, student elections at Nettleton School District will no longer have a classification of ethnicity. It is our intent that each student has equal opportunity to seek election for any student office.”

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