MEDIA WATCH: Professor proves that higher class sizes are best for public schools! WAL MART buys University of Arkansas 'school reform' department to push propaganda scholarship into the pages of The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere as 'research'...

When the Walton family (that's Wal-Mart) invested an unprecedented amount of money to establish the so-called "Department of School Reform" at the University of Arkansas several years ago, the university's president, a few trustees, and a number of professors assured the public that the university's reputation for "scholarship" would not be compromised, standards would be sustained, accountability and transparency assured, etc. etc. etc. With an investment of several hundred million dollars, and the complicity of a major state university, the Walton family had transformed what had been a relatively obscure right-wing think tank ("The Manhattan Institute", operated by a guy named Jay Greene) into one of the best-funded centers of right wing propaganda that would henceforth parade under the robes of university based scholarship. Those who had followed Greene's reports prior to the professoring of Greene's group remembered the fingerprints. With the help of some major media, Greene would always issues "preliminary" studies amid a flurry of press releases. The final vetted reports would never exist, but by then the propaganda had been fed into the mainstream.

When Substance first exposed last year's "Rent A Protester" and "Rent A Preacher" Chicago scams, we waited on the lengthier analysis of the biggest scam of all: Rent A Professor. With the recent additions of the punditry of Jay Greene, including the Wall Street Journal, it's time to begin that analysis as well, since the pollutants that Puta-Profs spew into the general thoughstream are much more toxic than a couple of sadly underpaid protesters brought on a bus to cheerlead Rahm Emanuel's "school reform" stuff. Jay Greene (above) graduated from being a small scale pundit (he ran a thingy called the "Manhattan Institute" for years, posting "preliminary reports" that were fed into the right-wing press) to a Professor of School Reform with one penstroke of the Wal-Mart checkbook. That's right, Jay Greene for the past two or three years as been an "endowed chair professor of school reform at the University of Arkansas," courtesy of an unprecedentedly large gift from the Walton family (that's Wal-Mart). As a result, Greene's propaganda for charter schools, union busting, and other right-wing "school reform" stuff is now officially "university research" provided to the press by Greene and the other half dozen "endowed chair professors" in the Arkansas "Department of School Reform."After he became a professor with an "endowed chair" at the University of Arkansas (the Wal-Mart connection was quickly hidden behind the veils), Greene's increasingly silly pseudo-scholarship has been under more and more serious critique during the past couple of years, when scholars paid attention to it at all. See, for example, the Marc Tucker response to the Greene review of Tucker's latest book below — remembering that Marc Tucker is one of the most longstanding proponents of corporate school reform in the USA.

But to claim that public schools in the USA not only do not need lower class sizes, but would do better with higher class sizes, as Greene tried to do in The Wall Street Journal less than a month before the presidential election, is a load even for the University of Arksansas's propagandists. Even long-term followers of Greene's propaganda may have been shocked when they read the October 9 claim by Green that class sizes in the USA in public schools should be increased, not decreased, to make schools better! Yet that is precisely what Greene was able to claim in the pages of a daily newspaper that currently circulates more than one million copies daily in print). While just about everyone who knew Jay Greene and the so-called "Manhattan Institute" knew that the statements by University of Arkansas officials were lies, the official version of reality prevailed. With a half dozen "endowed chairs" in the Department of School Reform, Greene and his colleagues went to work seeding the clouds of university scholarship and pseudo-scholarship with right-wing propaganda as decisively as right wing Super PACs are seeding the airwaves with the same stuff during the election campaigns. The examples of the short-term and long-term payoffs for the Walton family investments came pouring out.

During the ensuing months and years, the "Department of School Reform" and its "endowed chair" professors, led by Greene, regularly slipped their biases into what was supposed to be mainstream academic work. One time it was a series of studies showing that public worker pensions were going to ruin education. Another time it was an immediate study purporting to refute the facts about vouchers in Wisconsin.

But a high point in the long-term investment Wal-Mart made in "scholarship" came on Octoer 9, 2012, when Jay Green's attack on class size was published as an Op Ed in The Wall Street Journal not as the propaganda of a lifelong right-wing pundit, but as the research based work of a professor at a major state university. JAY GREENE WALL STREET JOURNAL OP ED 'THE IMAGINARY TEACHER SHORTAGE' (published on line on October 8, 2012 and in print October 9, 2012).

Jay Greene: The Imaginary Teacher Shortage. Forty years and a million more teachers later, student performance is unchanged. Yet Obama and Romney both say schools need more staff. By JAY P. GREENE

Last week's presidential debate revealed one area of agreement between the candidates: We need more teachers. "Let's hire another hundred thousand math and science teachers," proposed President Obama, adding that "Governor Romney doesn't think we need more teachers."

Mr. Romney quickly replied, "I reject the idea that I don't believe in great teachers or more teachers." He just opposes earmarking federal dollars for this purpose, believing instead that "every school district, every state should make that decision on their own."

Let's hope state and local officials have that discretion—and choose to shrink the teacher labor force rather than expand it. Hiring hundreds of thousands of additional teachers won't improve student achievement. It will bankrupt state and local governments, whose finances are already buckling under bloated payrolls with overly generous and grossly underfunded pension and health benefits.

For decades we have tried to boost academic outcomes by hiring more teachers, and we have essentially nothing to show for it. In 1970, public schools employed 2.06 million teachers, or one for every 22.3 students, according to the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics. In 2012, we have 3.27 million teachers, one for every 15.2 students.

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How did she do it? Less money for education, larger classes—and plenty of success.

Yet math and reading scores for 17-year-olds have remained virtually unchanged since 1970, according to the U.S. Department of Education's National Assessment of Educational Progress. The federal estimate of high-school graduation rates also shows no progress (with about 75% of students completing high school then and now). Unless the next teacher-hiring binge produces something that the last several couldn't, there is no reason to expect it to contribute to student outcomes.

Most people expect that more individualized attention from teachers should help students learn. The problem is that expanding the number of hires means dipping deeper into the potential teacher labor pool. That means additional teachers are likely to be weaker than current ones.

Parents like the idea of smaller class sizes in the same way that people like the idea of having a personal chef. Parents imagine that their kids will have one of the Iron Chefs. But when you have to hire almost 3.3 million chefs, you're liable to end up with something closer to the fry-guy from the local burger joint.

There is also a trade-off between the number of teachers we have and the salary we can offer to attract better-quality people. As the teacher force has grown by almost 50% over the past four decades, average salaries for teachers (adjusted for inflation) have grown only 11%, the Department of Education reports. Imagine what kinds of teachers we might be able to recruit if those figures had been flipped and we were offering 50% more pay without having significantly changed student-teacher ratios. Having better-paid but fewer teachers could also save us an enormous amount on pension and health benefits, which have risen far more than salaries in cost per teacher over the past four decades.

Then there is the trade-off between labor and capital. Instead of hiring an army of additional teachers, we could have developed and purchased innovative educational technology. The path to productivity increases in every industry comes through the substitution of capital for labor. We use better and cheaper technology so that we don't need as many expensive people. But education has gone in the opposite direction, making little use of technology and hiring many more expensive people.

Educational technology is still in its infancy, but some amazing innovation has already happened, especially in higher education. Coursera allows students to take free classes from the best professors in the world. In K-12, charter schools such as Rocketship Academy in California and Carpe Diem in Arizona "flip" the classroom so that computers do much of the teaching and teachers are primarily tutors, problem-solvers, and behavior managers. This model could allow for much more individualized instruction with many fewer teachers.

Of course, this productivity-enhancing substitution of technology for labor is occurring outside of the public-school monopoly. Without choice and competition such as from vouchers and charter schools, there is little incentive for the traditional public school system to innovate or economize.

On this we see an important difference between the presidential candidates. Mr. Romney favors voucherizing federal education funds so that parents can take those resources and use them to send their children to schools of their choice. He also favors a decentralized approach that leaves policy decisions to state and local governments. Without federal mandates and subsidies, state and local governments are unlikely to drive over the financial cliff by hiring more teachers.

Mr. Obama, on the other hand, has a Solyndra-like solution. He's happy to have the federal government pick the "winning" reform strategy of hiring another army of teachers by devoting federal resources to that approach. If it once again fails to improve student outcomes while stifling innovation, taxpayers will be stuck paying the bill.

Mr. Greene is a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas and a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute.


A Response to Jay Greene. By Marc Tucker Education Week on April 18, 2012 9:25. Marc Tucker is president of the National Center on Education and the Economy. For two decades, his research has focused on the policies and practices of the countries with the best education systems. His latest book is Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World's Leading Systems.

Jay Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas and fellow at the George W. Bush Institute, recently reviewed my latest book, Surpassing Shanghai: An Agenda for American Education Built on the World's Leading Systems, in Education Next. In a post on their web site, I respond to his review. See below or visit here to read my response.

Jay Greene's review of Surpassing Shanghai in Education Next was not so much a review as a hatchet job. Unhappy with our conclusions, he chooses not to debate them, but to savagely attack our goals, our methods and me personally.

Greene derides our goal of identifying "best practices," that is, the policies and practices that have enabled the students in an increasing number of countries to surpass student achievement in the United States. He seems to suggest that is a fool's errand, undertaken only by industry gurus like Tom Peters and Jim Collins in the business community. It is obvious to him that this is a form of "quackery." The evidence he offers is that some of the firms that Peters and Collins identified as top performers subsequently failed.

Firms rise and fall. Only a handful of the firms in the Dow Jones Industrial Average fifty years ago are in it today, and many don't exist any more. But that hardly means they were not once great or that firms today have nothing to learn from other firms that are eating their lunch now in the same market they serve. Quite the contrary. When the Japanese attacked American manufacturers in the late 1970s, many American firms went out of business in the face of superior manufacturing methods. Most of those that survived did so, in part, because they took their challengers seriously and studied their methods in detail. They studied their "best practices." They did it with industrial benchmarking, the method we have used. I would like Jay Greene to explain to all of us why this method, which proved so successful in helping to restore American manufacturing to its leading position in the 1980s, should be derided when it comes to restoring American education to its former world-leading status.

In our book, we point out that the research methods, most valued by American researchers, which involve the random assignment of research subjects to "treatments," cannot be used when researching entire national education systems, because it is not possible to randomly assign national populations to the national education systems of other countries. Oh yes they can, says Greene, and he points to the work of Karthik Muralidharan and Michael Kremer. Well, we engaged Muralidharan to accompany us on our three-week-long benchmarking research in India and I know his work well. He is best known for his own research in that country, in which he looks at the widespread implementation of a program to provide a form of private schools to the children of impoverished rural farmers. It turns out that these schools are more effective than the public schools they replace, partly because the teachers in the public schools rarely show up for work and partly because more teachers can be purchased for the same amount of money. Interesting, but irrelevant to the argument at hand. No one in his right mind would characterize this program as an entire national education system. Not for the first time, Greene grossly mischaracterized the evidence in order to make his point.

Greene not only attacks the methods used in the chapters in each country in our book, but he then goes on to announce that the conclusions drawn in the last chapter have almost nothing to do with the preceding chapters. He offers two pieces of evidence for this outrageous assertion.

One is Kai-ming Cheng's observation in his chapter on the Shanghai system in which he describes how a certain number of slots in key schools in Shanghai are set aside for students from outside that schools' enrollment area who can choose that school if they wish. But I learned from our own benchmarking in Shanghai that those slots are sold to parents and the poorer their children's performance in their sending school, the more the receiving school charges. This system was not designed to facilitate school choice nor was it designed to improve student performance. It was designed to enable formerly elite schools serving members of the Communist Party to stay afloat as they are decommissioned as key elite schools. That is why I did not include it in my list of strategies in wide use in countries that are outperforming the United States.

The other piece of evidence that Greene offers for his assertion that my analysis and summary ignored the work of the chapter authors in the book is that I ignored what they had to say about decentralization of decision-making in these systems. But that is not true. What I describe is a process that many others have observed. The top-performing countries have centralized the setting of goals, the setting of standards and the measurement of student achievement, and relaxed their control over the way schools choose to get their students to high standards. Over time, as they have succeeded in raising the quality of their teaching forces, they have started to relax the degree to which they specify their standards and curriculum, moving from a bureaucratic form of accountability to a more professional form of accountability. This whole process cannot be accurately described as a process of either centralization or decentralization. It is much more accurately described as a process of professionalizing the teaching force, a point that is made repeatedly in Surpassing Shanghai.

If Greene was right, and I ignored the chapter authors' presentation of the facts when writing my analysis and summary, you could reasonably expect that they would be, to say the least, annoyed. But, in fact, I did what any editor and summarizer could be expected to do: I shared my draft analysis and summary of the chapters with my fellow chapter authors, who seemed, on the whole, quite satisfied that I captured the essence of their findings.

After denouncing the "best practices" identified by the authors of Surpassing Shanghai on the basis of the methods we used, Greene appears to realize that his war on "best practices" has led him to inadvertently attack the kinds of studies done by people whose policy prescriptions he prefers, like Ludger Woessmann and Eric Hanushek, who have done well-regarded statistical analyses of survey data from OECD-PISA and other sources. We have, by the way, a high regard for these researchers and relied on them in our own work. So he retreats from his blanket condemnation of "best practices" study methods to exempt quantitative studies. But, then, to my astonishment, he even announces that case studies are OK if they are "well-constructed." This is after directing what he takes to be withering fire at our case studies. He mentions in particular Charles Glenn's case studies, describing them as "well constructed," but never explains what distinguishes "well-constructed" case studies from ours, which--apparently--are not. So, in the end, all the methods we used meet with Jay Greene's approval. It is only our conclusions that are odious. He is left with a very weak reed indeed to which he then clutches. The problem with the best practices approach, he says at the end of his review, is that, "by avoiding variation in the dependent variable," it prevents any scientific identification of causation. What? Our aim was to look at the top-performing countries to find out how they are doing it. If we strip the highfalutin language from Greene's assertion, he is saying that we cannot possibly figure out what is causing their top performance, because all or most of the factors we think might be causing it might be found in low-performing countries, too, and, if we haven't looked at them, we have no way of knowing that.

But Jay Greene evidently did not read the introductory chapter of our book, in which we lay out our method, or the concluding chapters, in which we conduct the analysis promised in the first chapter. The strategy we used was to compare the top performing countries to the United States. What we found was that the top-performing countries, as different from one another as Finland and Shanghai, Canada and Japan, shared a set of principles that underlie their reform strategies with each other, but not with the United States, and the United States is pursuing a set of strategies bases on principles that are not found in the countries that are doing the best job of education their students. Greene, you will note, failed to tell his readers that.

Why? It is not because he does not like our methods. His colleagues are using the same methods. It is not because there is "no variation in our dependent variable." There is variation in our dependent variable; we are comparing countries in which student achievement (the dependent variable) is high, to one, the United States, in which it is mediocre. It is because he does not like our results. We found that the principles of school reform he has been advocating don't work. They are not being used in the countries with the top performance, and the country that has been most influenced by his message turns out to be a mediocre performer. That is a very important finding. And it is apparently a little difficult to take.

IN CASE YOU MISSE DIT, JAY GREENE WEIGHED IN ON CHICAGO PLAN IN EDUCATION NEXT (WHICH ALSO FEATURES OUR OLD BROOKLYN BUDDY ALEXANDER RUSSO). Here is Greene's analysis of how school closings and charter school openings in Chicago are "true merit pay."

In Chicago — Phony Merit Pay is Dead, Long Live True Merit Pay, By Jay P. Greene 09/19/2012

The dust hasn’t yet settled from the resolution of the Chicago teacher strike, but it appears that the reforms the city were able to retain will result in a better “true” merit pay system than the “phony” merit pay plan they were forced to concede.

Let me explain the difference between true and phony merit pay. True merit pay — the kind of compensation for job performance found in most industries — provides effective employees with continued employment and regular raises while ineffective workers lose their jobs. If you do a good job you get to keep getting a pay check and if you don’t you have to look for work somewhere else. That’s true payment for merit because un-meritorious workers stop getting paid altogether.

In phony merit pay — the kind that hardly exists in any industry — there is a mechanistic calculation of performance that determines the size of a small bonus that is provided in addition to a base salary that is essentially guaranteed regardless of performance. You can stink and still keep your job and pay. The worst that can happen is you miss out on some or all of a modest bonus. To make it even more phony, in the few cases where this kind of phony merit pay has been tried, the game is often rigged so that virtually all employees are deemed meritorious and get at least some of the bonus.

According to the initial reports, the city of Chicago abandoned its efforts to institute this latter, phony merit pay. As the Chicago Teachers Union put it: “The Board agreed to move away from ‘Differentiated Compensation,’ which would have allowed them to pay one set of teachers (based on unknown criteria) one set of pay versus another set of pay for others.”

But the city preserved key provisions that result in at least some amount of true merit pay.

Specifically, the city preserved the ability to continue opening new, non-unionized charter schools at a rapid clip. It is already the case that almost 50,000 of the 400,000 students in Chicago’s public schools attend charter schools. As students migrate from traditional to charter schools, enrollment in the unionized sector has plummeted, causing 86 traditional public school closures over the last decade. Enrollment is so low in many existing traditional public schools that 120 additional schools are eligible for closure next year. As long as the city can continue to open charter schools and as long as there is demand by students to leave for charters, traditional public schools will continue to be closed in large numbers.

When Chicago closes a traditional public school for low enrollment the teachers are laid off. The new contract appears to place some limits on this, but the practice has generally been preserved. In addition, unlike in some other big cities, principals in Chicago are free to hire teachers as they see fit and are not forced to take teachers laid off from school closures. The new contract does require that half of all newly hired teachers come from those laid off and guarantees re-hiring only for the highest rated teachers, but according to the city’s summary of the agreement: “Principals maintain full authority to hire whichever teacher they deem best.”

The net effect of growing charter schools, closing under-enrolled traditional public schools, and only hiring back the best and most desired teachers from those schools is a true merit pay system. Bad teachers are let go. Good teachers not only get their job back, but they also get an extremely generous pay raise over the next four years for staying and being good. That’s real merit pay. (-Jay Greene).


October 10, 2012 at 7:46 PM

By: W. Gamino

Why is anyone surprised

The Walton family is merely practicing what the Rockefellers did a while ago. Give substantial amounts of money to change scholarship and research at a major university to support the agenda of billionaires: University of Chicago.

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