MEDIA WATCH: New York Times, Sam Dillon, launch New Year with another union bashing version of corporate school reform propaganda as 'news'

A little more than three years after he made his Page One debut as one of the most effective propagandists for corporate "school reform," New York Times pundit Sam Dillon began the New Year with another propaganda piece, disguised as a "news report" on behalf of merit pay and against traditional union pay scales for urban public schools. As early as December 2008, Dillon's profile of Arne Duncan sitting with President Elect Barack Obama graced the front page of America's "Newspaper of Record" in a hagiographic profile posing as news that left out most of the key facts of Duncan's dismal career as chief of Chicago's public schools — including the fact that Duncan's version of test-based "accountability" had led to the firing, by then, of more than 1,000 veteran African American teachers (and hundreds of other teachers) during the years of "turnaround" under Mayor Richard M. Daley's "Renaissance 2010" program.

President Barack Obama met with (then) Chicago schools Chief Executive Officer Arne Duncan for a photo op that put the so-called "Dodge Renaissance Academy" (the first AUSL "turnaround" school) on the national map for corporate school reform on December 15, 2008, the day Obama announced that he was picking Duncan to become U.S. Secretary of Education. The story, reportedly by Sam Dillon, dutifully picked up and told from the point of view of all the lies and propaganda of the Obama and Duncan administration, and appeared on the front page of The New York Times. Since December 2008, Dillon and Times editors have provided the propaganda talking points of the Obama administration with a dozen "news" stories, often from the front page of the Times, and usually in support of Obama administration policies such as Race To The Top. Dillon's output of propaganda for Race To The Top is many more than his former colleague Judith Miller provided for the Bush administration's Race to Baghdad to stop the "weapons of mass destruction" Miller reported that weren't there.For added effect, the carefully staged December 2008 media event that gave rise to the Dillon Duncan piece in December 2008 was held at the controversial (but not to the New York Times) "Dodge Renaissance Academy" operated by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), the President's favorite private "turnaround" operators. Since then Dillon has shared, always as "news", the opinions of America's corporate school reformers with the Times's millions of readers. So as New Year's Day began 2012, it was no surprised that Dillon was back at it, praising one of the latest attacks on veteran urban teachers and shilling for one of the latest magic bullet solutions to the problems of urban schools — individual merit pay.


In Washington, Large Rewards in Teacher Pay, By SAM DILLON Published: December 31, 2011 (on line) and on January 1, 2012 on Page One (national edition) of The New York Times

WASHINGTON — During her first six years of teaching in this city’s struggling schools, Tiffany Johnson got a series of small raises that brought her annual salary to $63,000, from about $50,000. This year, her seventh, Ms. Johnson earns $87,000.

That latest 38 percent jump, unheard of in public education, came after Ms. Johnson was rated “highly effective” two years in a row under Washington’s new teacher evaluation system. Those ratings also netted her back-to-back bonuses totaling $30,000.

“Lots of teachers leave the profession, but this has kept me invested to stay,” said Ms. Johnson, 29, who is a special-education teacher at the Ron H. Brown Middle School in Northeast Washington. “I know they value me.”

One of those with the President and Arne Duncan (far left) during the carefully staged and scripted Dodge Renaissance Academy media event of December 15, 2008 was then White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel (above right). Emanuel by 2011 was Mayor of Chicago, a post to which he was elected with the support of Barack Obama. In December 2011, Emanuel proposed the largest number of "turnarounds" in the history of Chicago's public schools, and the largest number (six) going to the quasi-privatized "Academy for Urban School Leadership" (AUSL). In carefully staged media events like the one that introduced Arne Duncan as the future U.S. Secretary of Education, Emanuel ignores the failure of "turnaround" in Chicago and the scandal plagued history of the AUSL schools, which have generally fired veteran African American teachers, replaced them (mostly) with young white teachers, and then, within three years, have seen the schools' test scores (supposedly the measure of "success" or "failure") drift back to the same or lower than comparable schools in the same areas. That is exactly the idea behind what admirers consider the nation’s most advanced merit pay system for public school teachers. This fall, the District of Columbia Public Schools gave sizable bonuses to 476 of its 3,600 educators, with 235 of them getting unusually large pay raises.

“We want to make great teachers rich,” said Jason Kamras, the district’s chief of human capital.

The profession is notorious for losing thousands of its brightest young teachers within a few years, which many experts attribute to low starting salaries and a traditional step-raise structure that rewards years of service and academic degrees rather than success in the classroom.

Many districts have tried over the last decade to experiment with performance pay systems but have frequently been thwarted by powerful teachers’ unions that negotiated the traditional pay structures. Those that have implemented merit pay have generally offered bonuses of a few thousand dollars, often as an incentive to work in hard-to-staff schools or to work extra hours to improve students’ scores. Several respected studies have found that such payments have scant effect on student achievement; since most good teachers already work hard, before and after class, there are limits to how much more can be coaxed out of them with financial incentives.

But Washington is the leader among a handful of large cities that are seeking a more fundamental overhaul of teacher pay. Alongside the aggressive new evaluation system that has made the city famous for firing poor-performing teachers — more than 400 over the past two years — is a bonus-and-raise structure aimed at luring talented people to the profession and persuading the most effective to stick with it.

“The most important role for incentives is in shaping who enters the teaching profession and who stays,” said Eric A. Hanushek, a professor of economics at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. “Washington’s incentive system will attract talented teachers, and it’ll help keep the best ones.”

Under the system, known as Impact Plus, teachers rated “highly effective” earn bonuses ranging from $2,400 to $25,000. Teachers who get that rating two years in a row are eligible for a large permanent pay increase to make their salary equivalent to that of a colleague with five more years of experience and a more advanced degree.

Those rewards come with risk: to receive the bonuses and raises, teachers must sign away some job security provisions outlined in their union contract. About 20 percent of the teachers eligible for the raises this year and 30 percent of those eligible for bonuses turned them down rather than give up those protections.

One persistent critic of the system is Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union, who argues that the evaluations do not adequately take into account the difficulties of working in poor neighborhoods. He also says that performance pay inappropriately singles out stars.

“This boutique program discourages teachers from working together,” Mr. Saunders said.

Several other big-city school systems have recently tried to break out of the mold of paying all teachers according to a single salary schedule.

In 2007, Denver enacted a merit pay system, which President Obama has praised but experts see as flawed. It gives larger monetary awards to teachers who earn advanced degrees than to those who significantly improve student achievement, though there is little evidence that students learn more when taught by teachers with advanced degrees.

The system in Houston, also adopted in 2007, defines classroom success so broadly that it rewards more than half of all teachers with bonuses. The amounts are smaller than those in Washington; the maximum possible bonus last year was $11,330.

This fall, the Miami-Dade County School District gave one-time bonuses, financed with $14 million in federal grant money, to 120 teachers. Eighty-four of them received $4,000 each, and 12 got the top payout of $25,000.

Karen Sutton, who teaches honors English at a Miami high school, was one of the 12.

“To have somebody say you’ve done a great job, that feels wonderful,” said Ms. Sutton, 56, who is in her 23rd year of teaching in Miami and has a salary of about $55,000. “But does it affect how I teach or whether I keep teaching? No. I’ve never thought, ‘If I get a bonus, I’ll stick this out.’ ”

Marta Maria Arrocha, who is 47 and teaches reading to fourth graders, was another $25,000 winner, which she described as exhilarating. Still, Ms. Arrocha, who has been teaching nine years, said she “would tend to discourage students who say they want to go into teaching.”

“I try to nitpick — is this really what you want to do?” she said. “A lot of people look down on this profession.”

Washington, like several other cities that have rolled out merit pay programs, first promoted the plan mainly by emphasizing the top compensation that someone could earn in a single year: about $130,000 annually in salary and performance bonuses. But earning that much is rare if not impossible — it requires the most experienced teachers, with the most advanced degrees, to have the best possible performance, something yet to be achieved.

Mr. Kamras, who helped design the Washington system, said he considered the most important aspect of Impact Plus to be the permanent increases awarded to outstanding teachers early in their careers, many of whom might otherwise leave the profession.

Take Mark LaLonde. At 32, he is in his seventh year as a social studies teacher at a high school in Washington. But he lives in Baltimore, where his wife works, and had considered working in the Baltimore schools to avoid the tiresome commute. But he gave up that flirtation after receiving the “highly effective” rating twice and having his salary increase to $87,000 from about $58,000 last year. He also earned a bonus of $10,000 for two consecutive years. In Baltimore, the union pay scale suggests that he would be making in the low $50,000s.

Jimmie Roberts, who is 28 and tutors slow readers, saw his salary increase to about $75,000 in 2011-12, from about $52,000 last year, in addition to receiving $30,000 in bonuses over two years. The money and recognition, he said, helped dispel the discouragement he had felt having to work a second job, as a greeter in a wine bar on nights and weekends, to pay off college loans.

Ms. Johnson, the seventh-grade special-education teacher, received her highly effective rating — and all the extra money — because her students’ test scores had improved significantly, and because administrators who had visited her classroom came away impressed.

“She’ll get a class full of kids who are below basic, who can’t read, and by the time they leave, they’ll be scoring well above basic or proficient,” said Remidene Diakite, the assistant principal at Ms. Johnson’s school. “A big part of her success is she puts so much effort into figuring out her students and teaching to their weaknesses.”


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