NEA vs. achievement gap

Closing the minority achievement gap is the top priority of the National Education Association, declared Reg Weaver, the union’s president, in a speech at the annual convention. Education Week reports:

He also told the delegates to the convention that leaders of minority communities are “being courted by those who want to destroy public education, and, unfortunately, some are being persuaded” to support, for example, charter schools and vouchers. He blamed what he views as the foes’ success, in part, on lagging achievement among black and Hispanic students compared with their white counterparts.

The NEA has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the No Child Left Behind Act, which seeks to close the achievement gap “with state-designed systems of standards, testing, and consequences,” Education Week notes. That opposition has alienated the union from some of its traditional allies.

Weaver has launched a campaign to make $40,000 a year the minimum teacher salary across the country: Even Alaska only pays $38,500 to first-year teachers.

He tied the proposed salary hikes to raising the achievement of minority students, saying it would help recruit and retain the teachers who are needed for that job.

Weaver told teachers to help poorly performing teachers improve in order to maintain the profession’s credibility.

Despite those injunctions, the speech did not urge teachers to, for instance, improve their teaching methods or demand better support for high-quality instruction from administrators.

Nor does the NEA’s budget for the year starting in August reflect a greater emphasis on raising student achievement. The department with that responsibility is to see its funding go up by less than 1 percent over the year, while the department handling collective bargaining and member advocacy is slated for an increase of almost 4 percent.

Actually, I thought the Ed Week article was quite hostile to the union. “News analysis” journalists call that.

Mike Antonucci of Education Intelligence Agency covered the convention in his usual sardonic style. He quotes Weaver as saying, “If there are those who choose to call us the keepers of the status quo, so be it. The status quo is the public in public education, and we are the keepers!”

About Joanne


  1. ragnarok says:

    Paging Mike in Texas (courtesy of Allen, Inc.):

    Take a look at the devastating cuts detailed by Mike Antonucci; obviously only a math-challenged ‘droid could mistake increases in Ed funding for decreases. I imagine that the union is moving at this very moment to fire those responsible, correct?

    I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me why the state’s (legitimate) interest in making a free (or almost free) education available to every child leads inexorably to the conclusion that only public schools can provide it.

  2. God, I hate these thieving bastards.
    I feel for issues regarding teachers and I think we are getting the raw end of many social problems, but I don’t need a group of elites telling everyone that I think a certain way. The NEA and CTA are supposed to be dealing with educaion issues, not foreign policy.

  3. SuperSub says:

    The education unions are based upon a good ideal, but have fallen from their pedestal and become power-hungry and greedy. They are close-minded, and turn away from any idea which they see as limiting their influence. They take dues from their members, and invest them in projects and lobbying which the member may not agree with, and even apply them to topics which are loosely, or not at all, related to education. The unions have become a bastion for Democrats, one of their most dependable constituencies and vicious allies. So it started with a good idea, big deal. Start again with a better idea, I say.

  4. My district has a lonstanding policy of offering the lowest pay in the area, and the highest class size.

    From some of the comments I’ve been reading, I’d assume that would result in our having the best quality teachers, as well as the highest quality instruction. For some reason, it hasn’t worked out that way.

  5. ag2828 wrote:

    My district has a lonstanding policy of offering the lowest pay in the area, and the highest class size.

    Without knowing how your district per student funding matches up against other, similar districts your claim has no meaning. A poor district would hire the fewest teachers and pay them the least simply because it doen’t have the money to do anything else.

    If your district isn’t a poor district then you’re the one who’s on the scene and ought to know what is being done with the money.

    Well, which one is it? Poor district or rich, wasteful district?

    From some of the comments I’ve been reading, I’d assume that would result in our having the best quality teachers, as well as the highest quality instruction.

    I’ve read that the occupational hazard of the public school teacher is burnout. I’m now inclined to think it’s self-pity.

  6. Please, would somebody answer this question or point to an article that discusses it?

    Why are Republicans behind No Child Left Behind when a central element of the act is to raise the achievement of minority students?

    Since when did Republicans care about them?

    It’s odd to see bleeding heart liberal teachers grit their teeth and mutter under their breath about all the damn things they’ve got to do now for black and hispanic students.

    This is a confounding role reversal.

    It’s like Nixon going to China.

  7. You’re on your own Robert although it’s interesting to note that one of the Senate co-sponsors for the NCLB is Ted Kennedy. Last I checked he’s not a Repurblican.

  8. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    The so-called achievement gap will not begin to close until low-achieving students and their families take personal responsibility for their education–ie. study, do homework consistently, follow the teacher’s directions, respect class and school rules, and (last but not least) value education itself, develop intellectual curiosity, and recognize educating oneself as the ticket to being a productive citizen in society. In short–repair personal and cultural values from WITHIN. All the pedagogical training in the world will not produce results without this explicit change. Blaming the ‘Establishment’ or seeing educational achievement as ‘acting white’ is the problem, not the solution. This is one big reason there is no achievement gap between Asian minority students and others; indeed, Asians often outperform whites. “It’s the values, stupid”. The NEA is nothing more than another lobby for wages and working conditions, just as all unions are…they should just be honest about it. ‘Nuff said.

  9. Mr. Davis says:

    Why are Republicans behind No Child Left Behind when a central element of the act is to raise the achievement of minority students?

    Since when did Republicans care about them?

    Since 1862 at the latest as I recall from my public school American History class. Unlike the Democrats who reinstituted segregation in Washington D. C. under Woodrow Wilson.

    And who really cares what their motivation is? NCLB is shining the light on the dirty secret that Public Education may be Public but it is hardly Education. Perhaps Republicans want to get what they pay for.

  10. “The so-called achievement gap will not begin to close until low-achieving students and their families take personal responsibility for their education–ie. study, do homework consistently, follow the teacher’s directions, respect class and school rules, and (last but not least) value education itself, develop intellectual curiosity, and recognize educating oneself as the ticket to being a productive citizen in society.”

    So, the quality of teachers and the quality of the curriculum do not matter? It’s just what is done at home? One could argue that public schools are so bad that it takes the parents at home to make up all of the difference. What are we talking about? Look at the NAEP questions. They are so trivial that I can’t imagine what the schools are doing during the day. Why should it take anything from the parents at home to have any child do well on these tests. Saying that it is just a home issue is a copout.

    Let me also add that this is not a minority achievement gap issue. There are lots of bad ways to close this gap. It’s an educational opportunity issue. Schools have the responsibility to provide the best educational opportunity for each child, not some sort of social experiment in communal gap reduction. If schools focused on teaching and separating those who can or will from those who can’t or won’t, then the onus and pressure will be put on the appropriate people; the students and their parents. The goal of shcools is to provide the best educational opportunities; not close some misguided minority academic gap.

  11. I was thinking along the same lines the other night, nailsagainst. Some of it is quality of teaching and certainly the big urban districts are a uniform mess, but that doesn’t explain the gap in the suburban schools. I don’t stuff cotton balls into the ears of my black students so they don’t hear the same things as the white students sitting in the same room. I teach high quality AA novels. It’s not that my white students come from more privileged backgrounds, either. The economic spread is about the same. Yet, 90% of the F’s I issued last year were to black students. That drives me insane. There’s no earthly reason for it. The educational system isn’t perfect, but if I could get ahold of some of those gangsta rappers, in my fantasy world I’d make them pay for every child they’ve influenced.

  12. Allen,

    What an unexpected pleasure to hear from you again!

    I work in New York City. You’d know that if you took the time to read the posts to which you respond. Maybe you ought to do some research on the CFE suit against the State of New York.

    Because, as you so astutely pointed out, you haven’t got the remotest notion what it is I’m talking about.

    You have a nice day, now.

  13. ragnarok says:

    RCC, I think your question contains the answer. You say “…I’d make them pay for every child they’ve influenced”; doesn’t this imply that you realise that the attitudes a child sees outside school are also very important?

    If he grows up thinking that you can get by without effort and discipline, without learning basic skills, why would he want to make the effort? He might even come to believe Jesse Jackson’s message that it’s all about racism.

    ag2828, are you talking about the school funding suit in NYC? My understanding is that this was a “professional judgement” estimate, in which the judge threw out the first finding that schools were adequately funded; the panel was then re-constituted, and then found that the schools needed more funds – correct?

    Here’s a fragment from an article by Joanne:

    “In the “professional judgment” model, educators are asked to imagine their ideal school, if money was no object. They need not prove their proposals — small classes, lots of computers, etc. — will raise student achievement. The money needed to fund the dream school becomes the measure of adequacy. Which surely is nuts.

    Not surprisingly, a Massachusetts study using this model found every major district in the state was underfunded by an average of 66 percent, write Peyser and Costrell. The exception was low-performing, high-spending Cambridge.

    In a New York funding equity lawsuit, the judge rejected the first “professional judgment” panel’s study, which found New York City schools had enough money to provide the “opportunity of a sound basic education.” Then the same consulting group, Management Analysis and Planning, was hired by the plaintiffs to do a second study. This time, the panel was restricted to “administrators, principals and teachers on the city’s Department of Education payroll,” with no outsiders, writes Sol Stern. “Their report concluded that the city schools needed yet another $3.7 billion per year.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now demanding an extra $5 billion from the state for city schools.”

    I know you think that salaries are too low in NYC; are you also saying that funding is too low?

  14. Why use such a stupid “professional judgment” model? Can’t statisticians build an actuarial-type model? Sure, there would be assumptions and controls aplenty — but at least they could be explicit, and one could see what happens if one variable changes, and so forth.

    Then again, many educators don’t know the least bit about statisticians or psychometrics or statistics – as Number 2 Pencil points out again and again!

  15. ag2828 wrote:

    Maybe you ought to do some research on the CFE suit against the State of New York.

    Tell you what, you lose the over-elaborate sarcasm and I’ll Google “CFE suit against the State of New York” to save you the trouble of linking to editorials in union newsletters that explain all about it. How would that be?

    On second thought, never mind. It took all of about ten seconds to find a nice source that lays it out in all it’s transcendentally compassionate detail.

    To quote from the National School Board Association site, I assume that’s a source acceptable to you:

    CFE points out that the city’s schools are so under-funded that one of three elementary school students is functionally illiterate, 40% of ninth graders failed to obtain a high school diploma, and that 50% of graduates who enter City University of New York require extensive remedial assistance.

    Just to let you in on the secret, I’ve already fenced with Mike from Texas about just this sort of sleight-of-keyboard so if I was a little unfamiliar with the lyrics the melody is all too familiar.

    Now that we know that New York City schools are starved for funding, just what level of funding constitutes “starvation”?

    A figure like that is always conspicuous by its absence so let’s just plug that little hole, shall we?

    New York City public schools are funded at $13,600 per student, $100 above the state average and $5,000 above the national average.

    The unenlightened might view that sort of funding as adequate to most any reasonable task but I’m sure that New York City has special circumstances which are also conspicuous, generally by their lack of definition. But the solution is always clearcut. Mo’ money.

    In this case, mo’ money consists of $18,000 per student along with a $9.8 billion lump-sum to fix up all those New York City schools that are in such a state of disrepair due to the skimpy $13,600 per student budget. Of course, things weren’t always that financially wonderful. Since the law suit was brought New York City public schools have had to suffer through a funding drought which consisted of only a 30% increase, roughly three times the inflation rate. Los pobrecitos.

    Because, as you so astutely pointed out, you haven’t got the remotest notion what it is I’m talking about.

    So how’m I doing now? Do I know enough about this garbage lawsuit to satisfy you? Have I graduated from not having the remotest notion what you’re talking about to get a passing grade in Bluff-calling 101?

    Now that we’re all on the same page, here’s my take on the suit: I love it. I hope the ruling stands. I hope the New York public school district get’s it’s $18,000/student and it’s $9.8 billion lump sum.

    I can’t think of a better way to put a stopper into the mouths of all the public education whiners who complain about inadequate funding then to have New York public schools get a horse-choking wad of cash and then produce the same, old results and the same, old excuses.

  16. Ragnorak,

    I don’t believe we have to compare NYC to “dream schools.”

    I’d just as soon compare it with the schools in nearby suburbs.

    Michael Winerip writes:

    “Good teachers and small classes. Those were the two main factors New York’s highest court cited last year when it ruled that the state had financially shortchanged New York City schools.

    The state must provide more money, the court ruled, so the city can afford to attract more good teachers and improve classroom conditions, particularly reducing class size.

    Michael Rebell, the lead lawyer for the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which brought the suit on behalf of the city’s poor children, says that research has shown it’s hard to attract the best teachers until you have good working conditions. And the crucial element for good working conditions? “Small class size,” he says.

    In the original 2001 trial court opinion, Judge Leland DeGrasse put it succinctly: “The advantages of small classes are clear. A teacher in a small class has more time to spend with each student. Fewer students mean fewer administrative tasks for each teacher. Student discipline and student engagement in the learning process improve in smaller classes.”

    I teach in a trailer behind the main building. Our building, designed for 1800, now houses 4400. I know people who’ve taught in hallways bathrooms and closets. We need to build more schools, and part of the lawsuit addresses that.

    Frankly, I don’t need a study to tell me I can devote more attention to students with a smaller class. Also, as a parent, I don’t need one to tell you that’s what I want for my child.

    It’s the State Supreme Court saying funding is too low. They emphatically rejected the appeal court’s decision that an eighth grade education which prepared our kids for menial labor was perfectly adequate.

    The issue now is not what Bloomberg demands, but how much he’ll have to pony up. The arbitrators said the city could pay for part of the settlement, but not an arbitrary or capricious amount. They used some legal terms to that effect, anyway.

    Pataki offered to pay 60%. The CFE says the city ought to pay 25%. Mayor Mike has offered not one cent, and a representative of his suggested the city would say “No thanks” if forced to shoulder part of the burden. However, they will probably not have that option.

    Thus, after 10 years, the suit drags on for perhaps one more.

  17. Ragnorak,

    Yup, that’s it.

    I’ll refer you to this article by Mike Winerip:

    Also, I’d refrain from comparing city classes to “dream” schools, and simply compare them to those in neighboring areas.

    The issue now, but the way, is no longer how much Bloomberg wants. The court has spoken. Unfortunately for Mayor Mike, the court said NYC could shoulder part of the cost. This, I believe, is because every time the state raised aid to NYC, his predecessor would reduce it by an equivalent amount.

    CFE said the state should pay 75%. Governor Pataki offered 60%, a good negotiating point, I thought. Mayor Bloomberg offered not one cent, and one of his representatives suggested, if compelled to pay, the city would just say “No, thanks.” It is doubtful, however, that they will have that option.

    Thus, the 10 year lawsuit drags on another year.

  18. DrLiz wrote:

    Why use such a stupid “professional judgment” model?

    You’re the judge. The suit before you asserts that the funding for New York public schools is inadequate and the plaintive names a figure of imposing size to remedy the situation.

    You don’t want to look like a schmuck when the inevitable appeal goes up the line so you can’t simply give the plaintiffs what they demand. You’ve got to develop a figure that’ll stand up to scrutiny but you can’t become an overnight expert in public school funding so you lay the responsibility off on a group of people who’s credentials absolve you of responsibility.

    When they come back with their first finding you spank them in a display of judiciousness and send them off to do it again. A second attempt results in a similar display of judiciousness. Third time’s the charm and the ridiculous task has a nice, shiny coat of credibility. If you’re reversed on appeal, well, you’ve done your job and it’s those mutts who developed the settlement figures that are at fault.

    Can’t statisticians build an actuarial-type model?

    How would they allow for the loud-mouthed yenta who’s been making the school board’s meetings a dental experience ever since her grandson went from the elementary school where he was doing so well to the middle school run by the worst principal in the district and is now failing?

    My point is that in a system in which excellence at any level – teacher, school or district – is not measured and carries no weight, how do you account for the occasional individual who through force of personality and determination artificially, locally and temporarily make excellence an organizational goal?

  19. “Tell you what, you lose the over-elaborate sarcasm…”

    That’s an excellent idea,Allen. Unfortunately, the rest of your post suggests this is too much for you.

    Now, the story you proudly cite is from May 2003, and seriously outdated. Nonetheless, it does nothing to dispute anything I’ve written.

    I don’t know where your figures come from, but even if they’re true, so is this–

    NYC classes are the largest in the area.

    NYC has the lowest standard for teachers in the entire state of New York, and the Chancellor has fought to keep them that way.

    Perhaps you feel that’s fine. The NY State Supreme Court, lacking the benefit of your wisdom, disagreed.

    By the way, thank you for looking into your crystal ball and predicting the ultimate result of the lawsuit. You must be a hoot at parties.

  20. RCC it would be interesting to discover how many hours per day the the kids in your classes spend watching TV. Would there be a correlation with the grades? More TV hours -> lower scholarship?

  21. ag2828 wrote:

    That’s an excellent idea,Allen. Unfortunately, the rest of your post suggests this is too much for you.

    Unfortunately, you finish your post with:

    By the way, thank you for looking into your crystal ball and predicting the ultimate result of the lawsuit. You must be a hoot at parties.

    …which suggests that it’s finely-honed and not juvenile sarcasm you object to.

    But back to the substance of your post, to misuse a word.

    I don’t know where your figures come from, but even if they’re true, so is this–

    NYC classes are the largest in the area.

    NYC has the lowest standard for teachers in the entire state of New York, and the Chancellor has fought to keep them that way.

    And, of course, you’ve got something a trifle more authoritative then your imperturbable certainty to validate your assertions, correct?

    Perhaps you feel that’s fine.

    Or not. But the convenience of imputing motives is unarguable and for you, irresistable.

    By the way, thank you for looking into your crystal ball and predicting the ultimate result of the lawsuit. You must be a hoot at parties

    And you are free to offer an alternative prediction but seem to prefer the royal disdain that’s the proper province of the Master Pedagogue.

  22. I’ve never asked, Zock. Personally, I watch almost no TV at all — can’t sit still for it. If the topic comes up again during the school year remind me and I’ll use it as an exit question and report the results. I know that some of my very bright kids are big movie buffs, but they seem to do a very active form of watching in which they pick apart theme, character, allusions, etc. Every year I get kids who insist I see certain films because the see the connections with what we’re doing with a particular piece of literature. I get the impression this is not the type of TV watching the study is correlating with low performance, however.

    ragnarok: yes, the outside influences are overwhelming everything else for some kids. I’ve had desperate parents — parents who are veterans of the civil rights movement and school deseg — pulling their hair out with me over their “gangsta” kids. It makes me cry.

  23. And since you wondered where my numbers came from, here ya go. I assume the NEA is credible enough for you?

    Page 39. You’re welcome.

  24. ragnarok says:


    I looked at Winerip’s article and I must say that it’s more of an opinion piece, IMHO, than objective reporting. Some things are ridiculous on their face. For example, it’s ridiculous to require no more than 15 students per class. It’s ridiculous for Tom Dee, Swarthmore or not, to claim that black kids do better when they’re taught by black teachers; it’s also crude race-baiting It’s ridiculous to claim that schools need $18,000 per pupil, rather than the $13,000 it’s now spending, assuming that figure’s correct. (I looked up the NEA website, and it says that in 2001-02, New York spent $11,023 per pupil, 3rd highest in the country; it’s reasonable to assume that it’s higher now, and probably considerably higher, since the NEA figures for California are ~$2,500 lower than the actual figure). You can verify this by looking at the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office figures for California.

    I believe that every child should be given a chance at a decent education, but not a guarantee of a Cadillac education (or should I say Lexus?). I also believe that people don’t appreciate what they get unless they have to invest in it, so I would like to see parents charged on a sliding scale. This is nothing new, Habitat for Humanity does it.

    I believe that the state has a responsibility to spend the taxpayers’ money wisely. That is, it should spend as little as possible while ensuring that children get a decent education. I realize that teachers, like most of us, would like higher salaries and better benefits, but that’s not the state’s concern. If teachers are professionals, they will keep their jobs and be well compensated because they provide a valuable service, not because the union contract requires it.

    Lastly, there’s no excuse for paying all teachers the same, and for protecting bad teachers. The good teachers should lead the charge against the bad ‘uns, and the union should too. Perhaps then people will give teachers the respect they desire

  25. Thanks for the link to the Mike Winerip article. Now I know that one of the more widely quoted researchers on the fabulous benefits of smaller class sizes also thinks Brown v. Topeka is a trifle problematical.

    I’ll be sure to remember the name of Tom Dee whenever the benefits of small class sizes are praised. Maybe Mr. Dee and the honorable Robert Byrd can get together and compare notes on Brown v. Topeka. I’m sure they’ll have a lot to talk about.

    And looking at this publication from the NEA, page 4, we see that the student-teacher ratio in New York state is 12.5. The report notes that student-teacher ratio is not the same as average classroom size, a table not found in this report.

    But, if we assume that the current class size is 25, that New York per-student figure of $13,600 generates a per-class budget of $340,000. Interestingly enough, if you get your magic classroom size of 15 and your magic per-student budget of $18,000, that generates a per-class budget of $270,000. If you subtract the average salary of New York teachers, $52,000+ along with a generous allowance for bennies, say 50%, that get’s us a per classroom net after teacher salary and bennies of, respectively, $262,000 and $192,000.

    Now using your attendence number, we can whip up a quick budget for your cash-strapped school.

    4,400 attending at $13,600 per student means that your school has to stagger along on a pittance of…drum roll please…$59,840,000 per year. At the $18,000 per-student level we have a pittance of $79,200,000 per year.

    But am I done yet? Not on your life!

    Now that we’ve got an attendence number can we derive some other fun figures. Starting with the 25-student-classroom, I can do a little arithmetic to generate a head-count. Works out to 176 teachers.

    The 15-student-classroom works out to 293 teachers. Using the $78,000 loaded salary, we have, respectively, a teacher budget of $13,728,000 and $22,880,000. And that shows that the percentage of building budget that goes to teacher salaries is, respectively, 22.94% and 28.89%.

    Which brings us to the question of the day: just what the hell are you doing with the bulk of the money?

    Any parties you want me to liven up?

  26. In general, teachers have very little to do with a budget. The central office tells us what we can spend, and we decide which books we can afford that year, and that’s about it. We also get a small amount for classroom supplies, but I always end up spending a lot of my own money on those. So, when you ask what are YOU doing with all the money, I’d have to say I asked for a couple of class sets of a new novel I’d like to teach and some replacements of existing novels in the curriculum; I also ordered my annual $100 worth of classroom supplies.

    I think 15 is a good number for intense classes in the bottom track, which is probably what you’ll find in an urban school. When I worked in a city school, I found that the kids needed lots of one-on-one attention and that, due to transience and discipline issues, it was almost impossible to build lessons based on previous lessons. (I’m sure ag recognizes this scenario.) The kids were just all over the place. I find 20 – 25 ideal for about everything else. I find 30+ a little overwhelming, but doable. FWIW, my school has something like a 15:1 published student:teacher ratio, but all my classes, except my remedial, were over 30 last year. Those numbers take into account classes like office runners, student assistants, pull-out remediation, independent studies, etc. which are set up in the system as having one or two enrolled.

    Could schools be more fiscally efficient? Sure. But that’s not often within the control of the average classroom teacher buying her own chalk.

  27. NYC is almost a special case when looking at the dollar amounts. The long and the short of it is that NYC and Metro New York is an expensive place to live. Compare the salaries of NYC to the adjacent counties which are still part of Metro New York and you will be amazed at the differences. Ten years ago the average salary for a teacher in Nassau County (Western Long Island which adjoins Queens) was $60,000 and it’s only increased since then. Compare that to the average NYC salary if you want to know how short-changed NYC is. My beef is that NYC intentionally has much lower property taxes than the adjoining counties (the house in Queens taxed at $3K per year is taxed at $7K per year in Nassau County) and wants the state to make up the difference. I say that NYC should set their property tax levels the same as the adjoining counties rather than try to suck the state teat dry. But there really is no question that NYC doesn’t put enough money into education. The quarrel is over who should decide what is an adequate education and who should pay.

  28. ragnarok says:

    Rex said:

    “But there really is no question that NYC doesn’t put enough money into education.”

    Really? Simply saying so doesn’t make it true. Allen’s provided detailed numbers, why don’t you respond to those instead of making blanket statements?

    BTW, arguing that NYC teachers are underpaid simply because Nassau has higher salaries is an extremely weak argument on logical grounds, don’t you think? Why not argue that Nassau overpays? Also, last time I looked, Nassau had a bit of a revolt over property taxes.

  29. Maybe you should re-read my post. I didn’t say that NYC teachers were underpaid; I said that they are paid a lot less than the surrounding districts. The implication is that they don’t end up hiring the best and the brightest of incoming teachers. I also said that NYC doesn’t put enough money into education, but I didn’t say that the extra money necessarily should go towards teachers’ salaries. If you knew anyting about the physical condition of most of NYC schools, you would know that the physical plant has been sacrificed in order to put the money other places, including teachers’ salaries.

    My point is that most of this (including the well-documented graft and corruption that plagues the NYC system) is New York City’s own fault and that state funding ought not to necessarily increase because of it.

    As for teachers’ salaries, I think that tenure should be abolished (and teachers’ unions) and let the market forces drive the salaries. We’d quickly find out what teachers should be paid! It might be a lot higher, but it also might be a lot lower. In either case, we could get rid of the dead wood a lot quicker and easier and pay more for master teachers than for mediocre teachers.

  30. elfcharm says:

    There is only ONE problem I see with your idea of letting pure market forces drive teacher sallary, Rex…
    But first, I would like to say that I generally enjoy the thought of it.
    What happens when you have some indian guys come over and say, “Hey, I’ll do that job for 30,000 dollars, as opposed to the 80 you’re paying that schmuck (Ok, I doubt an indian guy would talk like that.)

    The only way that teacher pay could be put under market forces, is if schools were as well. Give choice to the parents of where to send the kids. The only way to do that is for the public system to have competition, so now we are talking about vouchers and such.

    In general, if we continue this line of thought, we may come to an ideal, dream-like situation…
    unfortunately, stupid people (or at least self interested people) scream too loudly for the sensible ones to be heard.

    However, for my first point, take a look at Thailand. There you have a large demand for teachers of the english language…
    but you also have low wages for those teachers, because all too often these “schools” are looking for an english speaker with a pulse.

    it makes them money.

    This is, truth be told, my only fear for teachers if schools were opened up to market forces.


  31. ragnarok says:


    In your earlier post, you said “Compare that to the average NYC salary if you want to know how short-changed NYC is.”. Sure sounded to me like you were saying NYC teachers are underpaid, but since you deny that, let’s clear this up. Are you saying they’re (a) underpaid, (b) overpaid, or (c) paid just right?

    You do however clearly say again that education spending in NYC is too low: “I also said that NYC doesn’t put enough money into education…”, but you haven’t challenged or commented on Allen’s numbers. Why not? To me it sounds like NYC is putting far too much money into the public school system. I might be wrong, but I’d like to see an argument based on hard numbers, not just an opinion.

    As for abolishing teacher tenure and teachers’ unions, I’m all for it, but it ain’t going to happen anytime soon. Here in California, the CTA has about 335,000 members, each paying about $800 per year. That’s roughly $250M the union takes in per year – what do you think are the chances that our legislature will pick a fight with the CTA?

    Also note that the NEA numbers are typically lower than the actual expenditures. Happy to prove this to you in the case of California, if you doubt it (about 33% too low, NEA claims ~7,500, actuals well over $10,000).

  32. Ragnorak,

    Winerip’s article is certainly an opinion piece, and I wanted to share it with you because his opinion is one that I share—that good teachers plus small classes equals good education.

    I do not believe a teacher’s race affects his or her effectiveness.

    The figure of 15 was a single example, not a prescription. NYC classes are now at 34, the highest in the state, and no one realistically expects such a huge reduction.

    I have seen no figure of 18,000 per pupil anywhere. I do not assume the 13K figure to be correct, and NEA does not represent New York City, where the cost of living is the highest in the state. Also, having visited neighboring schools, there is a glaring difference. I do not believe that NYC spends more per pupil, it’s essentially common knowledge they don’t, and if they did, I can’t imagine how the lawsuit could’ve won, nor what they could be spending it on. It’s certainly not good teachers or small classes..

    CFE says:
    “According to the State Education Department, the average school district in New York spent $9,321 per pupil in 1996-97 (the latest year for which figures are available). Many districts spent far above or below this figure. Some small rural districts spent approximately $6,500 per pupil, while some suburban districts spent as much as $17,000.

    New York City, by far the state’s largest district, spent $8,171 per student — $1,150 less than the statewide average. The average downstate suburb spent $12,613. “

    I understand your concerns about money, but unfortunately, if neighboring districts pay 30% more, they will attract better teachers. If they have smaller classes, they will attract better teachers. Also, if they insist on higher standards, they will attract better teachers.

    I do not believe in protecting bad teachers. However, I also have a major problem with hiring bad teachers. Mayor Bloomberg took the LAST test himself, and correctly declared any high school graduate ought to be able to do the same. He then sent Chancellor Klein to Albany to beg for the right to retain and continue hiring teachers who failed it. Now I have to work with those people, and periodically negotiate with them on behalf of my students. They should not be teaching, and Bloomberg could fire them tomorrow. He negotiated to pay them 3K less per year in the next contract, and keeps them on. For him, they’re a bargain. For kids, they’re not a good thing.

    I agree with you in principle about investment. NYC homes are taxed at a rate of about one third their suburban neighbors. There’s certainly room for improvement. Mayor Bloomberg is now issuing a tax rebate to all homeowners, to be fortuitously delivered around election time.

    I also believe every child should get a chance at a decent education. I do not believe that’s been happening in the city for some time now.

  33. Andy Freeman says:

    > NYC homes are taxed at a rate of about one third their suburban neighbors. There’s certainly room for improvement.

    The second sentence doesn’t follow from the first.

    NYC homes are more expensive. If they’re 3x as expensive, the tax money is exactly the same. If they’re 6x as expensive, the tax money is double. And, I’m pretty sure that homes aren’t the only tax base. In other words, tax rates on houses don’t tell us spending per student.

    Let’s see the actual spending per student. Or is there a reason why ag2828 doesn’t want to talk about that?

  34. Andy,

    The taxes on a NYC home that is priced exactly the same as a home in the suburban neighbors are one third as much. Does that clear it up? The suburban neighbors are willing to pay the higher property taxes, NYC isn’t. That shouldn’t be a problem for the state government.

    On the other hand, the state’s problem is that Medicaid sucks up the largest part of state moneys. I had to laugh to myself when I read recently that Medicaid expenses in some other states might actually surpass their education funding in the next couple of years–New York has been in this position for over a decade!

  35. ragnarok says:

    Actually, Rex, you’ve missed Andy’s point. His point is that NYC house prices are higher; he’s saying, for example, that a house in NYC that costs $500,000 might go for $150,000 in the suburbs. In such a case, the NYC homeowner will pay the same property tax as the suburban homeowner. If the suburban house goes for $75,000, the NYC tax amount is double that in the suburb. Of course these numbers are just for illustration.

    Still curious, do you think the NYC teachers are overpaid, underpaid, or paid the right amount?

    But I do agree that it’s not primarily the state’s responsibility.

  36. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Closing the achievement gap does not preclude improving teacher training and pedagogy; it is SELF-EVIDENT (hence I didn’t explicitly mention it) that all professions require a constant reevaluation and evolution in methodology–whether doctors, lawyers, teachers or auto mechanics. However, my main point was that pedagogy and methodology alone will not close the achievement gap–not when true education is an explicit social contract and partnership between teacher, student and family. Teachers and the ed. establishment alone cannot raise student achievement when the VALUES of the student/family do not support educational achievement. In the final analysis, values impact behavior far more than anything else. A better way to teach math is pointless against a person who views math instruction already as a waste of his/her time. Hearts and minds need to be changed, and that takes far longer. IT’S THE VALUES, STUPID!

  37. Maybe I wasn’t clear–A 3-bedroom home in Nassau County valued at 400K might pay about 7K in property taxes. A similar home in Queens, valued at 850k (or more) might pay 3,000 in taxes. I don’t think there are any homes in the area around the 150K range anymore.

    By the way, I’m not avoiding per student costs at all. I’d be very interested to see them, if anyone could locate them. I’d be even more interested to see what the money’s being spent on–there are some very highly paid new administrators wandering around city schools nowadays.

    Ragnorak, surely not by intention, has me wondering–What would be so bad about investing in a state of the art education system in the best city in the world? After health, I don’t see what’s more important for our kids than education. I don’t expect that to happen, but I don’t see why that wouldn’t be investing public money responsibly.

    More realistically, I’d emulate the well-performing suburbs. I believe that’s been the intention of CFE.

    I guess I’m the only one around these parts to think so, but I’m glad they won. This could be the best break for city kids in many years.

  38. Ragnorak,

    See my earlier post on letting the market decide how much teachers should be paid. Personally, I happen to think that NYC teachers are underpaid and Metro NY suburban teachers are overpaid, but I don’t think that’s germane to this discussion.

    And I don’t think I missed Andy’s point, but ag2828 already addressed that. The tax diaparity is much more than the housing cost disparity. And remember, when we say “NYC”, we are referring to all five boroughs, not just Manhattan. As you go from Suffolk County to Nassau County to Queens, you will find that housing prices go up a certain amount (used to be $10K) per 10 minute reduction of train commuting time. That means that on the Queens/Nassau border, there is only a $10K house price differential between NYC and Nassau, yet the property taxes in Queens are 1/3 of the property taxes in Nassau.

  39. ragnarok says:

    ag2828, I think Andy was making a valid logical point, which was that it’s entirely possible to have a lower property tax rate but a higher tax bill – because the house prices are high enough to negate the benefits of the lower tax rate.

    As for per student costs, or total education spending, Allen gave us a link to the NEA website. It seems to me that the NEA has a vested interest in reporting the lowest possible figure, so as to argue that public schools are underfunded. In a previous post I offered to show Rex that the NEA figures are at least 33% lower than the actual per-pupil expenditures in California. I grant you this doesn’t prove the same’s true for NY, but chances are it is. You’re more than welcome to prove me wrong.

    Is the money being wasted on administrators? Quite possibly – after all, Klein & Co. hired Diana Lam, of ‘whole language’ fame, but my concern is whether too much money is being spent on the system.

    As for investing in education, see my first post on this thread: “I’m still waiting for someone to explain to me why the state’s (legitimate) interest in making a free (or almost free) education available to every child leads inexorably to the conclusion that only public schools can provide it.”

    Further, as I said earlier, I don’t believe in state-of-the-art systems. I believe in making a decent (not a Lexus) education available to every child, *and* in asking parents to pay something towards the tuition, separate from the property tax. Why? because people will only value things when they feel it has cost them something. If someone wants a state-of-the-art education, he’s welcome to pay for it himself, but he should not demand it as a right.

    Public schools have a long and expensive history of failure, and I’m tired of hearing the constant excuses along with the equally constant demands for more money. I send my kids to a private school at some considerable expense, and the property taxes I pay do me no good at all.

    Every penny of that tax is a penny that I could spend on my kids, and that’s a real harm that I suffer. Why should I shortchange my kids to subsidize parents who have kids they can’t look after, or parents who don’t care about their kids’ education, or parents who keep asking for more subsidies?

    None of this is aimed at you personally; it sounds like you’re one of the good guys.

  40. I understand your POV, Ragnorak, particularly since, for whatever reason, you’ve deemed your local public schools unsuitable. I, too, would find that absolutely unacceptable. You can bet I’d raise hell about it, too, and I sincerely hope you’re doing the same.

    Diana Lam, as I recall, was installed to lend credibility to Klein, a non-educator. She was later run out of town on some nepotism charge. I don’t know a lot about her, or “whole language,” as a high school teacher, but I can tell you that Klein is instituting a lot of trendy and nebulous teaching methods, largely involving self-discovery processes on the part of the kids. Klein’s minions dictate that this is the only way to do things.

    Last year a large group of them walked in on a class I was teaching. In this particular class, I’d been waiting many months for textbooks, and I had the kids sharing the few that were left. The observers walked in and effusively praised my “cooperative learning” techniques. One made special point of announcing that I was wearing a tie. And they all walked out delighted, not a single one of them having any idea whatsoever what was being taught that day.

    I don’t know if only public schools can provide education for our communities, but I know of no precedent for another effective system. I deplore ideas that depend on charity, becuase I believe we’ll pay a high price for allowing our populace to go uneducated. My instinct is to look at systems that work and try to replicate them. I don’t expect we’ll see eye to eye anytime soon, though.

  41. I spent a lot of time looking at other systems for a paper I wrote for a graduate class last year. Personally, if I got to be The Boss of Everyone, I’d take a long look at how to adapt Sweden’s. I think they get a lot of things right. Unfortunately, it costs them almost twice the GNP ours costs us (4.2 vs 7.4 I think). Would have to figure that out. But many nations spend more than we do … I’d say most, but I haven’t looked at the numbers recently enough… and they don’t aim to educate everyone 12 years. I think that’s the first idea we need to abandon.

  42. RCC,

    Could you tell us what they do in Sweden?

  43. Here’s an excerpt from my paper:

    The idea that social and economic class determines a child’s future is nearly universal. Sweden, where class differences in education have actually decreased, is an outlier in this regard. (Erikson 212)
    In Sweden, secondary education also offers a great deal of choice for students. Compulsory education only lasts 9 years and has a nationalized curriculum. After this ninth year, students may choose among 16 programs.
    “There are sixteen nationally determined programmes. All study programmes provide a broad-based general education and gives general eligibility for entrance to higher education. They also prepare for working life. All study programmes contain the same eight core subjects: Swedish, English, civics, religious studies, mathematics, science, sports and health as well as artistic activities. In addition to these, pupils take subjects which are specific to their programmes. Fourteen of the programmes include vocational subjects.” (ESTIA)
    Examples of these programs include Arts, Business, Childcare, Construction, Engineering, Trades, and Media. All municipalities must figure out a way to offer all 16 (ESTIA). In short, the typical Swedish 16-year-old has an enormous amount of choice over his or her future, resulting in a rate of 91% of 18-year-olds being in secondary school. The percentage of 17-year-olds – the last year of secondary education in the U.S. – is 76%. (NationMaster)

    I like the system because it gives the kids so much control over what they study. I think it gives them the buy-in they need to achieve.

  44. It sounds very good. One problem here is that we haven’t really got a uniform standard, due to the countless local systems. I’m sure that 76% figure is much lower in the US districts that really need help.

    Maybe giving these kids such important choices fosters real maturity.

  45. Will your paper cover the role of vouchers in the transformation of the Swedish public school system and the rise of independent schools that vouchers encourage?

  46. I turned that paper in over a year ago. It was tremendously interesting to research, especially since I had two foreign exchange students living with me at the time (one was Swedish), but I don’t plan to do anything else with it.

    I think giving them choice would make a big different. There would be huge obstacles to making it work — there are another 10 pages that go into that :).

  47. ragnarok says:

    I believe that countries that have core curricula tend to do better than countries that don’t. Sweden has a core curriculum.

    This isn’t my field, but I think the Stevenson study as well as the IEA studies of 1970 and the ’80s both indicate the importance of core curricula.

  48. RCC wrote:

    I turned that paper in over a year ago.

    Does that mean that the roll of vouchers wasn’t within the scope of your paper?

    The enabling legislation was passed in 1991 so the effect of vouchers would certianly have been felt by 2004 by which time 6% of the school children were enrolled in schools through the use of vouchers.

    While a national core curriculum is attractive it also sets the stage for a reprise of the “Creationism” wars and at the national level where the prize is vastly greater. Maybe you can pull off a national core curriculum in a relatively small, homogeneous country like Sweden. Here in the U.S. though, I’m afraid it would set the stage for a never-ending fight over the core curriculum which would inevitably result in a core curriculum that’s a political compromise.

    That ought to be enough to dissaude anyone interested in education and not indoctrination.

  49. No, I did not discuss the role of vouchers in that paper. Vouchers are high on your agenda, but not on mine. Your’re free to take graduate education classes and write your own papers, though. Let me know how it goes.

    I don’t know that you need a core curriculum beyond the one we have now, which is mostly established by state DESE’s. The key is adding the vocational interest and training classes, I think.

  50. Ah, well there’s the source of my misunderstanding then.

    You didn’t mention that the paper was for a gradute class in an ed school.

    It’s now clear why you, and I assume your instructor, are so uninterested in vouchers. If you’d been studying economics or political science, a change so central to as large an institution as public education would, naturally, have been of keen interest regardless of your feelings on the subject.

    But as a graduate student in a school of education that wouldn’t apply, would it? If the determination is made by, well, who?, that some subject is unacceptable among polite company then nothing more need be said. Why be curious? Curiosity is for people who don’t have all the answers.

  51. allen, what IS your problem? Somebody else did vouchers. Duh.

    FWIW, I don’t like vouchers and I think they are nothing but a bandaid. I think the way we do secondary school is wrong and contrary to everything we know about adolescent psychology. Setting up private enterprises to do the same thing wrong for less money is just a stupid solution (and most parents will stick with the traditional format). Your solution to educational ills is stupid and wrong, alan. That’s why I have little curiousity about it.

  52. RCC wrote:

    allen, what IS your problem?

    There’s a whole array of them. For instance, I have a real problem with exasperation that implies stupidity on the part of someone who can’t see the world as it so plainly is.

    Somebody else did vouchers. Duh.

    I’ve already noted your elaborate indifference to one of the seminal changes occurring in American public education and, it would seem, in Swedish public education. An indifference that’s at odds with the urge to post in an education blog. The contradiction is resolved if one assumes your indifference is cover for active hostility toward vouchers, a hostility that invites unwelcomed discussion and disagreement.

    FWIW, I don’t like vouchers and I think they are nothing but a bandaid.

    Well, we have a point of agreement then. Of course, from previous postings I think it’s safe to infer that you have the standard prescription for all problems educational: mo’ money.

    That money would show up largely as salary increases for incumbent teachers although all the braying about small class sizes would tend to undercut that laudable goal. You can have more pay or more teachers but if you want both, well…’ money. Right?

    Setting up private enterprises to do the same thing wrong for less money is just a stupid solution (and most parents will stick with the traditional format).

    Of course most parents will stick with the current format. What else do they know? But relying on apathy, inertia and fear isn’t turning out to be quite the certainty you’d like to posit it as. Hence the continued political viability of charters, vouchers, tax credits and damn near anything that sticks a thumb in the eye of the current system.

    Your solution to educational ills is stupid and wrong, alan.

    There’s that word “stupid” again. You seem to have a bit of an afinity for it. I can understand why. It absolves you of any responsibility to defend, or even think about, your closely held beliefs. Disagreement is evidence of stupidity and that’s all the excuse you need to draw your lips into a thin, disapproving line and focus on the middle distance, determinedly untroubled by stupid people and the stupid things they say (write).

    That’s why I have little curiousity about it.

    Right. Because it’s stupid and you don’t bother with stupidity.

  53. Right. I’d appreciate it if you would pay attention to what I write, though. I have NEVER ONCE posted that the solution for education is more money.

  54. RCC wrote:

    I’d appreciate it if you would pay attention to what I write, though.

    Coming from someone who’s favorite dismissive is the word “stupid” that’s an interesting request.

    I have NEVER ONCE posted that the solution for education is more money.

    From two posts up:

    Setting up private enterprises to do the same thing wrong for less money is just a stupid solution

    …and there’s your favorite word, again.