The school reform deniers

August 21, 2011

By Steven Brill
All opinions expressed are his own.

Every year I tell students in a journalism seminar I teach about the junior reporter for The American Lawyer – the magazine I founded and edited –who committed a classic error when he submitted a draft of a profile about some lawyer in the news who had made it big. Midway through the article, the young reporter described a showcase this lawyer had in his office that displayed a bunch of combat medals. The reporter declared, matter-of-factly, that our legal hero had won the medals for his heroics in Vietnam, which was relevant, he added, because the lawyer made his war record and his lock-n-load approach to his work part of his pitch to potential clients.

In the margin next to the statement about the lawyer having won the medals I wrote, “Who says?” When the reporter came to ask me what I had meant, I told him to check with the Pentagon about the supposed medals. Which the reporter did, and which caused a mini-scandal after we reported in our otherwise positive profile that our hero hadn’t won them.

The story has three points. First, that reporters should believe nothing told to them by a biased source, especially when what they are being told is a checkable fact. Second, that while opinions deserve balanced reporting of both sides’ views, facts are facts. They are knowable. The guy either got medals or he didn’t. Third, the best way to test facts that you think you know is to put them in front of the person with the greatest stake in refuting them. In this case when we confronted the lawyer with the Pentagon’s records that he had not won any medals, he produced no evidence to the contrary and, in fact, ultimately confessed his deception. Case closed.

I have thought about the lawyer who didn’t win the medals a lot in the two years since I parachuted into a giant story that I started out knowing little about: the battle raging across the country over education reform. After I had seen a reference to them in the New York Post, I showed up one morning in June 2009 at one of New York City’s “Rubber Rooms.” These were the places that housed hundreds of New York City teachers whom the Department of Education had accused of misconduct or incompetence, but who were protected by union tenure rules and, therefore, remained on the payroll for years pending the outcome of endless arbitration hearings, which typically resulted in them being returned to class by arbitrators whose $1,400-a-day contracts had to be approved every year by the teachers’ union.

The minute I saw these people sleeping, playing board games, chatting, or — in the case of a cheerful, $85,000 a year former middle school teacher — lounging in a beach chair she had brought from home, the story seemed obvious. As schools chancellor Joel Klein and his staff had argued, the Rubber Room was a symbol of a system gone haywire.

However, there seemed to be another side. The union had maintained that the Rubber Room teachers were victims, and New York’s public radio station, WNYC, had broadcast a report in which several of these Rubber Room teachers were interviewed complaining about how they were being persecuted for having complained about Klein’s misdeeds or misconduct.

WNYC simply and fairly presented the two points of view: the City’s claim that these were teachers with awful records, and the teachers’ claim that they were wonderful pedagogues targeted by tyrannical bureaucrats. I had no dog in this fight; either story would have been a good one – featherbedding incompetents or targeted whistle blowers drummed out of class. But I took the approach that there was lots that could be knowable about these idle teachers. First, I could spend as much time as possible with those who have the greatest stake in the argument — the Rubber Roomers themselves – and get them to tell me the specifics of their cases or to give me their own (union-paid) lawyers’ briefs in defense of the charges against them. Almost all refused to provide any such documents. That was telling, though not dispositive.

Most important, I could read the thousands of pages of testimony offered by both sides in their arbitration hearings to develop an objective view of whether the charges of incompetence made sense. That made all the difference. For example, would you want someone teaching your kids if her lawyer hours contesting the evidence of whether she had actually ever had custody of her teachers’ manual, which was her defense to the charge that she hadn’t prepared lesson plans, graded papers, or set up her classroom properly? Or, would you want your son or daughter being taught by a teacher whose defense for appointing the biggest kid in her class as the “enforcer” to keep the other children in line was that she was teaching “self-governance”?

In another case, trumpeted on the website of the United Federation of Teachers as an example of school officials targeting a terrific teacher simply because she was a high-salary veteran, the record – which was uncontested by the teacher’s own lawyer – showed that she had been found passed out dead drunk in front of her high school history students.

A few of the 800-plus Rubber Roomers were probably put there unfairly. But for me – and for my readers after I reported on the evidence — the reality that these were rooms full of malingerers became clear.

As I moved on from the Rubber Room to begin the broader look at the education reform battle being waged across the country, which culminated in a book published last week (Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools), I found that thinking about the lawyer who didn’t win those war medals was a great way to cut through the rhetoric on both sides.

For example, there’s debate about charter schools and whether being freed from a union contract, as the charters mostly are, really matters. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten (with whom I probably spend the most time in interviews for the book) brags about how the Brooklyn charter school she runs is unionized and is a raging success. In May, former Democratic National Committee chairman and Weingarten friend Howard Dean was on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” saying the same thing. The fact is that this teachers’ union-run charter school — with only 28% of its students testing proficient in English and 34% in math – got an “F” in student performance and student progress for the latest completed school year annual report card that New York City gives out to all schools.

Sitting in successful charter schools and then the failing public schools in the same communities and watching what they do differently similarly helped cut through the rhetoric about what makes some schools effective and others failures. I sat with supervisors in non-union charter schools as they spent most of every day observing their teachers and giving much-appreciated feedback about even seemingly trivial issues (“You lost eye contact when you put the book in front of your face.”). Then I watched assistant principals in the public schools mostly stay in their offices, fearing they would be accused by the union of harassment if they observed and coached too much. This made the differences in student outcomes at the best charter schools completely understandable, and it made the dry policy arguments about the value of supervision and accountability tangible – and undeniable.

Reading the hundred-page union contracts in force across the country pierced the unions’ claim that these are standard agreements only meant to provide decent working conditions for teachers and protect them from abuse at the hands of tyrannical principals. They turned out to be treasure troves of small-print clauses that make a mockery of the notion that public education’s priority is to nourish children rather than protect the adults. Like the one in New York City that specified the work day down to the half-minute and doesn’t allow principals to comment on the format of a teacher’s lesson plan. Or the ones in Wisconsin that paid teachers to attend both the state and regional union chapters’ conventions.

Listening to teachers’ unions’ promise to “collaborate” to bring about reform rings hollow when you discover that, embedded in the much-celebrated agreement between the unions and New York state officials last year to enact reforms related to winning the federal Race to the Top grant contest, are loopholes that mean that those reforms are not likely to happen any time soon. This is so obvious that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, when I asked about the small print in the deal, concedes in Class Warfare that the reforms promised in return for the federal grant money are not going to happen.

The kumbaya feeling you get watching union leaders sit on panels with reformers and calmly discuss their joint mission to do what’s best for children fades when you read the over-the-top lawsuits they have filed to block reforms, or when you cull through their financial records or their campaign finance filings and see how they continue to sponsor the politicians who take the most hard line anti-reform positions and punish those who stray and support even the mild reforms that they claim to support.

When you hear the soft-spoken and highly-regarded education historian and former reformer turned anti-reformer Diane Ravitch speak, you get the sense that there must be a substantive other side of these issues. That evaporates when you read her anti-reform book and see that there is no there there. Ravitch presents no alternative path; she mischaracterizes the reformers’ arguments (by saying, for example, that they want to rely solely on test scores when they always say that rigorous classroom observations and other subjective evaluations should be at least as much, if not more, a part of the equation); and , as with other anti-reformers, she cherry-picks all kinds of data, lunging for whatever she can to rebut the simple and obvious argument that effective teaching is what counts the most in the classroom and that, as in any workplace, the best performance is not likely to spring from a system that guarantees that teachers can’t be supervised or be evaluated in any meaningful way and that ties their compensation or assignments only to how long they have been on the job.

I have now worked my way through a fog of claims that give new meaning to the notion that if you repeat something that is plainly untrue enough times it starts to seem true, or at least becomes part of the debate. For example, there’s the refrain from the deniers, including Ravitch, that charter schools skim only the best students in a community. Some may, but not the best ones like those in the KIPP or Success Academies networks, where students are admitted by lottery and which teach the same ratio of learning disabled students as the traditional public schools. Those are facts.

Or there’s the unions’ canard, also routinely repeated in the press (and even in a thoughtful review of my book in Sunday’s New York Times) that unions can’t be the problem because southern states with weak laws protecting unions have some of the worst performing school systems. First, teachers unions generally have so much political clout that they are often strong even in states without strong unions generally. Second, in the last decade as reform-minded officials in states like Florida and Louisiana have pushed for accountability, the results have been clear. For example, before Jeb Bush — probably the most ardent education reform governor ever — took office in Florida in 1999, his state’s fourth graders ranked third from the bottom in reading; when he left, they ranked sixth from the top. Meantime, New Orleans, which was among the nation’s worst performing urban school system before Hurricane Katrina, now ranks as one of the best because of the reformers’ overhaul that accompanied the rebuilding of the system following the hurricane.

I’ve now read all the white papers and commission reports. I’ve learned all the policy wonk acronyms, and logged hours with everyone from teacher trainees, to the secretary of education, to Weingarten and Ravitch. Yet after all of that it still seems as uncomplicated as it did when I saw my first Rubber Roomer with his head resting on a card table. I mean no disrespect to all the dedicated people who are the “experts” in education policy, but for me the problem and its root causes still seem as un-debatable as the practice of paying that guy to sleep for three or four years.

There are just too many undeniable facts to make the basic issues debatable:

• Fact: American public education is failing our children and it is especially failing the disadvantaged children who need it the most. Amazingly, the unions occasionally even deny this, claiming that all of the multiple international comparisons are somehow inaccurate. One of the challenges in doing the book was picking from the array of shocking, depressing statistics showing how poorly our public schools are performing compared to those in other countries, including countries we don’t usually think of as our global competitors in the knowledge economy.

• Fact: This is not a matter of money. We spend much more per student than those other countries for our lousy results, and while we’ve kept increasing our spending, we haven’t improved performance.

• Fact: This is not about class size as much as it is about who is in front of the class. Of course, a classroom with 40 children is not likely to work as well as one with 10. But at the margins, class size doesn’t matter. We’ve consistently lowered class size in America with no growth in student performance (but with explosive growth in teachers’ unions’ dues collections). And the charter schools that work the best typically have the same size or slightly larger classes than the traditional public schools.

• Fact: Charter schools are not the magic bullet; there are too few of them, and probably not more than half are performing significantly better, if at all, than traditional public schools. It’s the 95,000 public schools that we need to fix. But we now know from the charter schools that do produce great results that all children – even those from impoverished or dysfunctional families – can be taught by effective teachers. Poverty, broken families, race discrimination are huge obstacles, but they are not excuses for allowing kids to fail.

These knowable facts produce five simple questions that, I think, have obvious answers:

1. Given that, other than retail sales clerks and cashiers, K-12 teachers are the largest work force – 3.2 million – of any single occupation in the United States, and that theirs is arguably the most important occupation, can there really be a debate about whether their performance should be measured and acted on so that what they do best can be studied and taught to others, so that the best ones can be encouraged and advanced to become mentors, and so that the worst ones can be retrained or ushered out of the classroom?

2. Can we really accept the teachers’ unions’ argument that because tests to measure a student’s progress aren’t perfect, or because the supervisor observations that are also part of any good teacher evaluation process are subjective, that we just shouldn’t try, especially when our public schools are failing us so miserably?

To an outsider like me, that seems completely, undeniably insane – which was exactly Bill Gates’s reaction when an education expert from Harvard first explained it to him in a 2007 meeting, after which Bill and Melinda Gates channeled much of the Gates Foundation’s resources into encouraging school systems to measure and reward teacher performance.

3. In what other workplace would the most important workers be laid off only on the basis of how long they had been on the job, with the last in being the first out (a system called LIFO)?
The union’s argument — which much of the press dutifully reports as if it is another of those on-the-one-hand/on-the-other-hand issues — is that if LIFO wasn’t there to protect teachers, the most senior teachers would be fired first so that the principals could save money. Apart from the fact that this underscores the insanity of paying people based only on how long they have been on the job, it also ignores the obvious fact that while that discriminatory strategy may have been used in the first half of the last century, when these LIFO restrictions were put in place, it plainly isn’t possible since the passage of the federal age discrimination act in 1967. Not only would that kind of discrimination be illegal, it is also the easiest discrimination claim to sue an employer for. If an employer lays off 100 people and they are disproportionally old, it’s an open and shut case, with the simple age data as Exhibit A. It’s not anything like the difficulty of proving discrimination in hiring.

4. Isn’t it obvious that union leaders have a basic conflict of interest with their own members in this debate? If the most important factor in a teacher’s professional life became promotions or salary bumps based on his or her individual performance, then the union contract – whose core provision is lockstep compensation, based only on how long a teacher has been on the job – would become that much less important. So union membership and union dues would become that much less important.

That’s why so many dedicated, high-performing teachers I met felt alienated from their union (and why turnout in union elections is so relatively low).

In fact, I found that by taking apart and re-doing the typical contract that union leaders fight so hard to protect we could spend the same overall amount on public school teachers yet afford to pay teachers $65,000 to $165,000, instead of the $30,000-$110,000 we generally pay, thereby offering the compensation and merit-based environment necessary to attract and keep dedicated professionals. Among the ways to do that: 1) substitute standard 401 (k) pension plans for the costly back-loaded pensions that benefit the senior teachers who are most likely to vote in the low-turnout teachers’ union elections (and that now costs major urban school systems $10,000-$20,000 per teacher); 2) allow for slightly larger class size (which would free up $7,000-$20,000 per teacher across the country); eliminate the 10-15 sick or personal days in a 34-38 week work year prevalent across the country (and stop allowing teachers to cash in the days they don’t use); 3) stop paying automatic salary increases (now amounting to $5 billion a year nationally) just because a teacher gets some advanced degree, when all the research now shows zero correlation between those degrees and teacher effectiveness; 4) stop paying automatic seniority-based increases above what would now be the higher starting salaries and use that money to pay the top third or top quarter of performers the highest salaries; 5) stop paying teachers for doing union work or for the two or three years that they remain idle pending tenure-required disciplinary or removal hearings; and 6) allow for distance learning that allows more students to take advanced courses and implement other technology-enabled efficiencies that the unions have resisted.

With the saving generated from this “grand bargain” to revitalize public school teaching – in essence by swapping performance for protection — we could give teachers the kind of status, career paths and compensation that countries with the best public education results offer. It would be great for kids. And it would be great for the majority of teachers who are dedicated professionals, and who in various polls and recent union contract votes have consistently demonstrated a disdain for civil service-like tenure protection and a yearning to be treated and rewarded like professionals. But it would be an unsettling departure for traditional union leaders who still see the old lockstep contract as the key to preserving their power.

5. Can we regard the opposition of Democrats to reforms that would eliminate the unions’ stranglehold on public education, including even LIFO, as anything other than obedience to the teachers’ union leaders who are their patrons – especially in the face of a growing cadre of Democrats, including the Democratic president, who now favor these reforms because they have come to believe that school reform is the civil rights issue of our time?

To be sure, my reporting produced more complicated results than knee-jerk anti-unionists or some of the reformers would expect.

First, good teaching is a lot harder than most outsiders understand; it’s grueling work that hundreds of thousands of teachers do really well and with amazing dedication, though they are too often undercut and demoralized by mediocre colleagues and the unions that protect them, as well as by uncaring school bureaucracies.

Second, teachers’ union leaders are not one-dimensional obstructionists or villains. I found places where they are engaged in real reforms aimed at helping the children instead of the adults.

Nor is the other side always right. There are many situations where the reformers have been naïve, arrogant, or hypocritical. For example, Teach for America is hilariously hypocritical when it comes to teacher accountability; the organization rates its teachers rigorously, but won’t tell parents or prospective employers of those teachers anything about the ratings for fear of hurting their corps members’ morale. Huh?

Moreover, the solution to fixing America’s schools isn’t simple just because the problems and the path are obvious. Re-tooling America’ 95,000 K-12 public schools and retraining, reinvigorating and, where necessary, weeding out and replacing any significant portion of America’s 3.2 million public school teachers is exponentially harder than launching a few thousand successful charter schools mostly run and taught by a relatively small corps of highly-motivated, best-and-brightest types, many of whom soon approach burnout. (The most articulate warning in the book about this comes, ironically, from the co-founder of KIPP, arguably the country’s most successful network of charter schools.)

That’s why my prescription for how we turn around public schools — not by abolishing the unions but by persuading or forcing them to engage in real reforms so that they can help move those 3.2 million teachers in the right direction – might surprise some reformers, as well as Weingarten (who I think could become a “Nixon to China” figure in that effort). In other words, once you get into the weeds of reporting about our schools, the solution becomes more complicated than either side would have you believe.

That said, the issue of whether we need to throw out a system in which we allow unaccountable, unmeasured civil servants to produce failure when our nation’s economy, security, and core values depend on success is not complicated at all. It doesn’t take Woodward and Bernstein to see that the deniers are running on empty. It reminds me of the old debates over whether cigarette smoking is bad for your health. Curing lung cancer is complicated. Identifying a leading cause wasn’t. It only seemed complicated for as long as it did because those with an interest in denying the obvious spent so much for so long to keep the debate going.


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[…] The school reform deniers […]

Posted by Make Money – The school reform deniers | Report as abusive

You’ve identified the wrong leading cause ailing public education. It’s not teachers. It’s private interest in public education, or big business moving in. eform.pdf

“The only major national evaluation of charter schools was carried out by Stanford economist Margaret Raymond and funded by pro-charter foundations. Her group found that compared to regular public schools, 17% of charters got higher test scores, 46% had gains that were no different than their public counterparts, and 37% were significantly worse.” 052748704869304575109443305343962.html

Posted by Della | Report as abusive

I have one other suggestion for a piece of investigative reporting. Find out how many people who have been involved in drafting policy (like NCLB) at the Federal Level have ever been a teacher in a public school. As my husband says, “Those who have never been in the trenches sure know how to dig the ditches.”

Posted by Della | Report as abusive

Mr. Brill, while you obviously put the time and effort in to reach a valid opinion on this issue, I do see something in your words that troubles me. Neither the unions or the various government agencies involved are as homogenous as you present. They are made up of vastly differing groups with different core values. My worry is no group puts the eduction of children in front of the interests of their particular group.

While the goal is the same, the issues facing a school district in one part of the country are very different from the issues in other parts. You take great pains to point out the valid short comings regarding the unions but take no such pains in pointing out the dysfunction within school boards.

Why focus singularly on the unions when ineffectiveness comes from much more than a teacher? School boards are nothing more than little fiefdoms that are just as responsible for promoting the status quo as the unions. You approach seems to put all the blame on on group while avoiding the systemic failure of the school system as a whole.

Posted by mhbenton | Report as abusive

These are all nice suggestion for attacking the teacher side of the equation. Yet they still ignore the fact that you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make him drink. Too often you have students that don’t want to learn and parents of those students that don’t care whether their kids learn or not. How simple would it be to tie the cost of the education to the students performance? Little John gets an A in a subject, then little John’s parents don’t have to pay for that class. If he gets a B then it starts costing his parents… 25% of the cost for a B 50% for a C, 100% if he gets a D and 200% of the cost if he fails…. now you have an incentive from the parents to make sure their kid does the work and tries. The fact is anyone with the brain cells of a half dead monkey can get A’s in a school where the material is spoon fed… yet somehow a large portion of those students make half dead monkeys look like Mensa members…. So when we reform the teachers lets not let the parents and kids off the hook either.

Posted by Yirmin | Report as abusive

As the child of a school principal and a teacher I listened through my childhood to stories about the world of education. My parents would have loved you.
Today it seems that some are dedicated to promoting policies that tear down through central over control. Thank you for having a vision to build up. The entrenched bureaucracy is surely much of the problem. Thank you for presenting the truth and not being a phony.

Posted by stevah | Report as abusive

I’d agree with the author that education requires reform and having served overseas and seen first hand the quality of education other children receive its clear the US is lagging behind other industrialized nations. But I believe education is a three legged or triangle shaped object. First is the student; they must do the work, study and put effort into their own education. Second is the school system; teachers, administration, facilities and school boards. Lastly is the parents; parents need to be involved with their children’s education. Are they enforcing homework and study time? Do they attend parent teacher conferences?

One of the reforms that the teachers unions need to agree to is performance incentives. And the teachers/unions should come up with the criteria. Pay the best say top 20% of the teachers a bonus, while the lowest 10% don’t get any seniority or tenure time. Drive educators to perform better. I’d agree that test alone don’t qualify to measure that performance, since education is part of a three legged triangle I described before (just like fire, which is comprised of heat, oxygen and an ignition source) where should one leg not be as strong as it should, the effort fails.

I do like the idea that parents of failing students need to pay for the class, but not a tiered system that requires payment for grades lower than an “A”, as suggested by Yirmin.

Finally, reeling in costs, books don’t need to be changed every year. As a college student, I look for used books for classes to keep some of the costs down. Yet, I find more often than not that a book is replaced by a newer edition requiring purchasing a new book at full price rather than an older or used book. Some subject don’t change all that significantly (unless we’re talking history or science).

Posted by JP8 | Report as abusive

I have to point out you’ve overlooked one major bit of information.

Nearly all of those countries that we fair so poorly against start weeding out students from their primary educational system by 8th grade. Those students that don’t demonstrate the ability to indicate they’ll be able to perform well in college get funnelled off to vocational or work study programs and don’t take those tests that compare thier students to our students.

So how well would we be doing vs germany or one of those other countries if we excluded as they do the bottom 40 percent of the students in our highschool populations?

The missapplication of data and statistics is handicapping both camps in the attempt to fix our educational system.

For the record I’m not a teacher. I work in the private sector but having lived overseas it really annoys me that the most intelligent and active people in these discussions always try to compare apples to oranges to make thier case we are so far behind the rest of the world. We do need to improve but the sky is not falling, and pointing out that we are so far behind everyone else who play by different rules than we do is counterproductive to the coming up with real world solutions. But it makes great politics.

Posted by samuel_c | Report as abusive


I agree… there is a big difference in the US system and the way it works in other countries. And the reality is that some kids aren’t college material, some kids should be taught basic math and reading then shown how to fix a air conditioner or fix some plumbing, but for some reason the PC brigade in this country has drilled it into everyone’s head that all kids need a college education (young adult day camp is more descriptive)… so we spend hundreds of millions on trying to educate people that don’t want or can’t handle the education beyond a very basic level.

It also hampers the current kids that could succeed in college because again the PC brigade doesn’t want schools to segregate kids based on ability, so every class is filled with a mix of the very brightest down to the mentally handicapped… so every teacher has to dumb down their class for the dumbest kid they have…. but hey… it makes the PC brigade feel good when all the kids graduate.

Posted by Yirmin | Report as abusive

While this is one of the most well researched articles on the subject, it seems to bypass the deepest issue — why aren’t the parents of the children in our public schools and the taxpayers who fund the schools, the primary focal point of all discussions. No one else really deserves a say in this. The parents and the taxpayers are the primary stakeholders in this — all the rest, teachers and administrators, are just hired servants. The ‘profession’ has been ‘over professionalized’ and needs to be brought back into reality. Local communities need to be the ones who hire and fire teachers and make the curriculum choices, and no one else.

Posted by bittercynic | Report as abusive

As usual. a commentator, who seems to have done a very throuough and workmanlike job in his analysis of the failings of Big Union, appears not to realize that at least half, if not more, of the lack of students to achieve is not due to teachers, Unions, or other externalities.

l. I Q is important and has been shown to be quite evenly distrubted all factors being equal.

2. There is a continuous story in our Educational History of groups that do well–groups that do very well–even when they faced numerous outside obstacles.

It is well known that Jews had difficulty being accepted to Universities such as Harvard before World War II. Has Mr. Brill discovered the reasons why so many Jews achieved so well in the forty plus student classes they usually attended in the large cities?

The large number of Caucasian students who have supposed advantages stemming from greater average affluence are well behind the Asian contingent in our schools.

The bottom line is, of course, the culture of the micro society and the culture of the home. Jews have traditionally placed Education as a prime objective. Asians usually demand that their children achieve the highest of scores through incessant study.

I must refer to what might be called the medical model. We receive “patients” who are grossly obese, have very high blood pressure, do no exercise and then we blame the doctors for the high incapacitation rates and eventally mortality.

Mr. Brill might wish to turn his attention to the main problem–How do we change the culture of the neighborhoods–because, as he must know, the culture of the neighborhoods is nearly the same of the culture of the schools in those neighborhoods.

Posted by Massagat | Report as abusive

@ Steven,
You’re link in support of your claim that there is zero correlation between advanced degrees and effectiveness is broken.

Posted by RexMax46 | Report as abusive

almost as bad as the holokaust deneyers.

Posted by rasputyn | Report as abusive

@RexMax46: thanks for pointing out the broken link. It’s been fixed.

Posted by jledbet | Report as abusive


Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive

[…] The School Reform Deniers. Steven Brill describes how he moved from “The Rubber Room” to the broader ed reform battle. (Reuters) […]

Posted by Quick Hits 8.22.11 | Report as abusive

It’s about time somebody pointed out the true facts in the failure of the education structure. Education leads to a drop in crime and an increase in GDP for everybody! Education also leads to understanding and that’s something the USA needs most right now.

Hat’s off to Steven Brilll!

Posted by ddmondello | Report as abusive

Massagat has it right, that is, it’s about what the student brings to the party culturally – the values that are important at home. As a former teacher – 4 yrs., then quit; tried again prior to retirement, quit as 1/2 of the students could not care less about anything at school other than free bkfst and lunch. Your point about union issues, I feel, is partially true. But the primary problem with educational success resides in the home environment, or lack thereof. The egregious protection of incompetent or dishonest teachers happens; I witnessed it in a single instance. It was far from common in the public school district I worked in. Most teachers were highly dedicated & competent. Please keep perspective and include a “balanced” rather than build an entire case on “the rubber room” example. I agree with you. The answer, though, is not only declawing the unions. Perhaps that’s your political agenda. The need for reform is critical, but teachers can only do so much. Children who have absolutely no interest in being in school, except for the obvious benefits of socializing or getting free meals – that problem needs serious consideration. It isn’t strictly a matter of the incentives or job protections teachers receive. That, IMO, is a distortion.

Posted by Teachertaughter | Report as abusive

[…] Brill writes at about the “Rubber Rooms” in which New York stashes teachers who have […]

Posted by Would You Defend THESE Teachers? | FrumForum | Report as abusive

The real problem is not the teachers or the unions it is the perception that education is going to remain the same. It isn’t. One ordinary teacher can teach about twenty five students effectively a day. With today’s amazing software a super teacher reaching students through a computer can teach more than twenty five million students a day. Sooner or later teachers are going to morph into room monitors because computers can look at a learning problem from ten different directions and systemically work with a student until they exhibit an understanding of what is being taught. A human teacher cannot multitask and interact with each student the way a computer can. This has been obvious since ATM’s replaced bank tellers, what’s holding up real reform is acceptance. Want a shock? Take a look at the Khan Academy online (learn anything free) or look over some of the software homeschoolers are already using. There is no reason to fix schools because the whole system is eventually going to get scrapped.

Posted by sylwadlington | Report as abusive

The link correlating teacher effectiveness to ‘advanced degrees’ is actually a comparison between certified teachers, non certified teachers, and teachers certified in an ‘alternative’ manner. Furthermore, and more importantly, they use a data set of 3rd to 5th grade math performance (they note quite a few other studies but fail to provide anything concrete, instead noting that they are ‘similar’.) Call me optimistic but I would like to think that most people who have a college degree but are not certified teachers would be able to teach 5th grade math. It would be far more relevant, for me at least, if they compared teachers with bachelors vs masters vs doctorates teaching a high school level math class.

Here is the institute actually stating quite the contrary to what you’ve said in fact:

“There is fairly consistent evidence that teacher test
scores and subject-matter expertise are modestly related
to their classroom performance (Goldhaber and Anthony 2004; Cavalluzzo 2004; Vandevoort, Amrein-Beardsley, and Berliner 2004). Such evidence is somewhat more
robust for students in later grades.” (pg10, par2)

Wouldn’t this suggest that those with more advanced degrees would be more effective teachers? I am failing to see the correlation you drew between advanced degrees and teacher certifications.

I agree we need significant changes made to our educational system and that there are no easy answers but I feel as though you have not fairly represented the myriad of issues surrounding the problem. I look forward to gaining some further understanding of your viewpoints in the book.

Posted by jrule | Report as abusive

What will be the point of school reform when most of the students will not really be able to use the education they get? The upper tier careers will go to people who can afford the pay for colleges, even vanity colleges for rich dummies. The kids who rioted in Britain months ago knew that the door was closing on them in favor of the self-satisfied upper income people.

It doesn’t really matter what is done to control what the author asserts are New York City union excesses. I remember reading this story elsewhere many years ago and those rooms are still there.

Why would they share their legal issues with a reporter?

What the schools should concentrate on is teaching courses for the new permanent underclass. They should prepare their charges for careers as maids, cooks, au pairs, gardeners and doormen, or learn to find satisfaction at minimum wage employment or the ever-scarcer union protected manufacturing or public sector job. Actually the public sector and union jobs will probably require advanced degrees. Well paid jobs in finance, or with the prestigious schools and public institutions will be reserved for the well placed and more highly educated as they have been for years.

The fact that over 30% of the working population (cited in an article in this paper about a week ago) can be unemployed and the country hasn’t caved in suggests that the country can live with chronic unemployment. When the time is right the strong arm of government will take back what it needs to keep civil order and insure that those are at the top are not unduly inconvenienced. The wealth gap will continue to increase and the “undeserving” class (an ever expanding undeserving class) will live on an inflated currency and in a rapidly decaying physical environment and all the religion they can stomach just short of becoming brain dead.

An educated underclass would only be an inconvenience and might actually know how to fight back effectively. And unless this country has a flood of young people to counter the aging boomers, it won’ happen and they won’t stand a chance. The Arab spring is happening in countries where the majority of the population is under 30.

The author is doing nothing more than trying to lighten to he load on the available life rafts. The passengers are not inclined to cramp their accustomed styles.

Posted by paintcan | Report as abusive

Suggested Reading “Visible Learning” by John Hattie. It reviews all the major factors that impact learning in a school environment. It renewed my focus on 2 key items, teachers and peers.

I’m always astounded by the range of quality of education in the US. It appears to have the best and worst schools in the developed world. I’m also amazed by the innovation in the market. Charter schools with a specific focus such as law or marine biology are a fascinating development. You are also the home of & the online programs from MIT.

It is a shame that vested interests are having such a detrimental impact on the average student.

Posted by WellWizard | Report as abusive

Thanks for the vivid reporting and clear-eyed thinking Mr. Brill. The prescription you offer, alas, is not on par with the facts you give. The VIVA Project, asks ordinary classroom teachers to collaborate on line and create systems level solutions that will actually change practice in their classrooms. The fact is, neither reformers or teachers themselves are going to force or persuade union leadership, whose very existence is owed to their ability to protect against irrational & arbitrary bureaucratic decisions in a flat profession, to engage in real reforms that drives excellence, invests in effective teaching and rewards great teaching.
But, if we separate debates about labor law (the vast majority of what we now call education reform policy) from discussions about education law, we can actually make the unions relevant where they are effective and irrelevant where they are unmotivated. Let teachers themselves drive their profession; take bureaucrats out of that domain as well. That’s what The VIVA Project is all about–you will find the prescriptions created by working classroom teachers are not much different than many in the reform agenda. But the vast majority of teachers start with their students and their own practice not control over inputs or compliance. The best prescription for education reform is to let classroom teachers own it.

Posted by EAEvans | Report as abusive

“eliminate the 10-15 sick or personal days in a 34-38 week work year prevalent across the country”

I did not understand this suggestion. I can see the appeal of cutting down the number of sick days teachers get, but eliminating them altogether seems like a terrible move. At my local school district, unused sick days go into a union-wide “sick bank” that allows teachers and nurses that experience serious maladies to essentially take out emergency paid-leave. When you shatter your leg so badly that you’re going to be out of work for 3+ months, that structure is a Godsend. I understand that this might have significant costs associated with it, but I think its benefits are an acceptable sacrifice to be made.

Posted by Dizzy_D | Report as abusive

I only had time to check a couple of your facts. See this link: sheet/charter-schools/myths-and-realitie s-about-kipp.html

This rseems to refute your claim that Kipp network schools’ success rates are not skewed due to having more motivated, higher performing students. The studies show that lower performing students drop out in higher numbers at KIPP schools.

I noticed some other broad claims that might well be disputed, such as that Florida’s or New Orlean’s increased successes are directly attributable to the reforms you listed. I found this account of many studies that claim to refute studies on the efficacy of the reforms:

Granted that the reports were highly academic. I can’t determine if they pass your test for validity or are biased parsing by anti-reformers.

That all said. Since obviously something is wrong in our education system, we need to determine what it is. There ought to be some experimentation done: with some schools implementing teacher reform, others focusing on student motivation, while a third group focuses on parental involvement for failing students. I do think those three things all need looked at.

I also agree with the commentor who said foreign schools weed out the students who can’t perform academically, steering them into vocational studies. In the final analysis, I believe that it is primarily the lack of parental (and social group) involvement and lack of expectations that is the most significant factor in the failure of American education.

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive

It is unfortunate that we have kids growing up in environments that do not support education. Teachers in that situation are going to have a very difficult time, it is a very challenging career, but it is not a new phenomenon.

Where we have utterly failed is in providing this generation of teachers with the training, skill sets, and ongoing support that will allow them to do their job well. Blaming the teachers for not knowing how to teach is incredibly short-sighted. They can only work with what they have available to them.

Throughout higher education, the education programs are the dumping ground for the dumbest boxes of rocks that wash-out of anything else. We have bad teachers because a degree in education is all they could graduate with, so they are ushered through into teaching. This is not a good reason to be a teacher. At the same time, we retard our good teachers by forcing them to sit through hours and hours of mindless drivel, masquerading as an education. They don’t know, how can they know? They are the students, victims of a sick and corrupt higher education system. They can only trust that what they are learning is valuable, and in far too many cases, it just isn’t.

Consider a good student, with a fire and passion for teaching. This student goes to a teacher prep program and aces everything, without really having to work. Now, should that student feel good about his/her own abilities, or feel awful that so much more could have been accomplished in those four years, if the program was actually worth a nickel? Or maybe the student gets so frustrated at learning how many ways there are to make a face out of a paper plate that he/she chooses a serious degree instead. Seen it so many times, especially with prospective science teachers.

In higher education, education programs are amongst the lowest cost per student. That means they are amongst the highest “profit” per student. That means that administrators love them, promote them, make sure that the softest, most academically unenlightened people get to lead them, so that standards can be kept low, so that all students can be retained and the tuition money can still flow. There are no serious professional standards for educators, just a degree.

Ironically, in many states, it is required that an individual have one of these superfluous joke degrees, because anything more challenging or serious would not prepare the individual to be a teacher. Perhaps that is a valid point; after all, once in the actual practice, a teacher has to be able to tolerate the mindless drivel forced on them by ill-conceived plans and incompetent administrators, so maybe a teacher has to demonstrate an ability to put up with this before being allowed into the profession. Seems like a waste of four years to me, but I could be wrong.

Posted by Educ8Now | Report as abusive

wow reading these comments is like watching congress talk. some good ideas but half the people here just ignore anything that doesn’t fit thier viewpoint and go on.

1. Until we admit we can’t fix big problems in a 4 year election cycle, and that some will take a generation or more to fix it won’t get better.

2. Teachers can’t fix poor and underperforming demographic groups without heavy parent involvement. This is where standardized testing fails. The teachers who work in those areas get burned and move on. Parents are more important to education than teachers. And we have no control over that factor. sucks but welcome to reality. Quit punishing teachers for parents that don’t do thier jobs. Figure out how to engage those parents and you might do some good

3. We have to fix the 80’s mentality that if you don’t go to college you are a failure. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, paramedics and a lot of other trade proffessions can make more money than someone with a liberal arts degree. And we need more of them.

4. We need to quit trying to find quick easy focused fixes to these big complicated problems. Big complicated problems require firm steady long term complicated solutions. Stupid short term fixes are like companies laying off people every year for 5 years to boost stock prices then discovering they have no one left who can or will do anything that might be risky because they are afraid of being layed off. Short term fixes almost never work.

Posted by samuel_c | Report as abusive

As a public school parent and child of a 40-year veteran public school teacher, I wonder about the inside-out reform of local communities getting involved in their schools. Yes, on a national level, the policy and intention is misguided by both the teachers’ unions and the politicians – and will probably continue to be, well, forever. Both understandably have motives that don’t include the education of children.

But where are the parents in all this? What about a parents-based approach, where many many parents get involved in their local schools – volunteer, become watchdogs, get to know their school boards, encourage their children to succeed? What about parents raising money, contributing with their time, learning what it means to respect education and learning?

I’d like to propose a movement much like the slow-food movement, but for public education: one that grows from the inside-out, using organic, local resources (parents and teachers and principals), one that thinks about community sustainability. Once parents realize that they can move their schools toward positive results, the politicians and reformers and unions will follow us, because they will have no choice.

Posted by ParentsforTexas | Report as abusive

[…] invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Ravitch’s […]

Posted by The reform movement is already failing | The Great Debate | Report as abusive

Completely ignored in Brill’s supposedly rigorous and broad investigation is the crucial, central, Third Rail issue of IQ, of student capacity, of inherent aptitude.

No amount of teaching reform will make an average student above-average, or a below-average student average.

There will ALWAYS be inequalities of outcome, often stark ones, and persistent across generations, since people usually marry (or these days mate) those within their own IQ range.

Posted by Carney3 | Report as abusive

Educ8Now said – “Where we have utterly failed is in providing this generation of teachers with the training, skill sets, and ongoing support that will allow them to do their job well. Blaming the teachers for not knowing how to teach is incredibly short-sighted. They can only work with what they have available to them.”

I’m sorry but a large part of the poor performance of teachers in the class room is because of the insane amount of NON-relevant educational training they are given in colleges. I know in my old university that teaching degrees were there for those unable to pass any other programs, it was and still is the safety net of degrees. What training teachers were given was woefully missing in the actual subject they would be teaching. Imagine a teacher that is going to teach math is going to have more credits in teaching the special kid, the gifted kid, the deaf than they would in actual math courses… that is the reason the guy that failed out of engineering decided to be a teacher, the math he couldn’t pass in the engineering college wasn’t required to be a math teacher…. instead he was taking spoon fed classes on how to teach… how to teach special kids… how to teach gifted kids… how to do every possible thing… except he wasn’t taught the actual subject he would be teaching… That is a failure of the system.

To much emphasis is placed on learning how to teach and mastering what the teacher will be teaching is ignored….. would you want the pilot flying you on your next vacation to be someone that was a master of flying or a master of building airplanes… there is a difference and that critical difference is what is churning out tons of teachers capable of teaching every type of student but incapable of actually understanding what they are supposed to teach.

Posted by Yirmin | Report as abusive

[…] past Sunday Steven Brill penned an op-ed for Reuters regarding school reform. Oddly enough it sparked some debate, and three other writers […]

Posted by Great Read: Reuters School Reform debate | LearningIsAwesome | Report as abusive

Mr. Brill, you invalidated your own argument. You don’t know the facts. As someone who is married to a teacher in the public schools who retired after 37 years, I am familiar with most of your argumentation. But, except for a cursory mention of them, you leave out the most influential and problematic group of people in this vexing problem: the parents. By ignoring this constituency, your other ideas lose their punch. There is no doubt that some of what you say is true. But you get no points for predicting rain. You only get points for building an ark. Go back, gain a better appreciation for the whole system, and then try again.

Posted by bluesblood7 | Report as abusive

From Mr. Brill: “Fact: Charter schools are not the magic bullet; there are too few of them, and probably not more than half are performing significantly better, if at all, than traditional public schools.”

NOPE. From Ms. Ravitch’s rebuttal: “The definitive national study of charters was conducted by Stanford University economist Margaret Raymond and financed by the pro-charter Walton Family Foundation and the Dell Foundation. After surveying half the nation’s 5,000 charter schools, the study concluded that only 17% got better test results than a demographically similar traditional public school; 37% got worse results, and the remaining 46% were no different from the matched public school. An eight-state study by the Rand Corporation found no differences in results between charter and regular public schools. On federal tests, students in charter schools and regular public schools perform about the same.”

How does 17% morph into “probably not more than half?” Brill must have invented a new definition of “fact.” It calls into question the rest of his analysis. As an attorney would say, it calls into question the validity of his non-expert opinion. And BTW, who decided to qualify him as an expert?

Brill should know better than to confuse facts with unsupported conjecture.

Posted by Gaius_Baltar | Report as abusive

Well Mr. Brill, I see that if a reader dislikes your analysis they can invalidate it by saying “but you forgot about the students we have to work with” or “but you forgot about the parents of the students.”

However, it seems to me that those two variables are actually irrelevant. One might as well say “but you forgot about the color of the hallways” or “You forgot that students whose schools are located 5 feet higher in elevation do better than those at lower elevation.”

My experience in teaching taught me: (1) all schools have good and bad students and some of the good students are bright and some make up for not being so bright with hard work. And (2) some parents get involved and some don’t with some good students having non-involved parents and some bad students having involved parents.

In short, claiming your analysis is invalid because you didn’t include factors that occur in all educational environments is as silly as saying 10*2*1 does not equal 10*2 because you forgot to multiply times 1 at the end…

Posted by bobw111 | Report as abusive

[…] Brill has it exactly right when he says that “our nation’s economy, security, and core values depend on [the] success” of our public […]

Posted by America is losing another generation to science illiteracy | The Great Debate | Report as abusive

As someone who is in the trenches, I have sympathy for the author, and for some of the comments here that blame intransigent unions. However, I also know that what samuel_c speaks of is true: we have inflated expectations of what our students can do in our education. If the aim is to get every student to college, then we fail, if college is the liberal arts, science, or engineering degree. If college includes tech schools then OK. But this country is not really set up for an explicit and structured approach to track students into various trade and non-trade careers. That would need to be done at the end of 10th grade, with a full-blown apprenticeship program to help students transition into trade career pathways. Good luck on doing that. As it is, schools try to fill that gap with shop classes etc, whilst striving to keep students interested in other more academic subjects when many students do not have the maturity to see that these may be useful to them, later in their chosen fields. And no hope when it is clear to a student (given their interests) that the expected value of these subjects they do is LESS than the expected cost of passing them. We kid ourselves about this, but we cannot expect a rational outcome until we accept that everyone is different, and that this especially so in terms of academic and other talents. It is not an accident that many elite private schools often crow about how good they are in getting their students to college (and colleges of their choice!). It is also not surprising how blind these same schools are to the advantage they have of usually only picking from within the top 30% of possible students. It is hard to go wrong with that population…

Posted by otterouttahere | Report as abusive


First, you can Google the critiques of the Raymond study to see that it far from “definitive.” With a moving target like education policy, there is no “definitive.” There is only continuing efforts to improve the system, preferably by dismantling the existing system as rapidly as possible.

If there is any value to the Raymond study, it is to shut down/change management of the 37% that did worse, and expand the 17% that did better rapidly.

Of course, this process should be applied to EVERY under-performing district school across the country as well.

There is no intellectually sound argument for saving/salvaging ANY vestige of any under-performing school. Shut them down.

Posted by BrunoBehrend | Report as abusive

[…] The school reform deniers The reporter declared, matter-of-factly, that our legal hero had won the medals for his heroics in Vietnam, which was relevant, he added, because the lawyer made his war record and his lock-n-load approach to his work part of his pitch to potential … Read more on Reuters Blogs (blog) […]

Posted by Latest Fix Lock News | All The Best Locksmiths | Report as abusive

I only thought that it is only in my country (Kenya) that requires reforms.In my country more emphasis is laid on Acquiring knowledge than practicing it. therefore we have graduates who are very educated but without any practical experience.the education system in Kenya requires a complete change sometimes in my country the cost of education especially PHDS become to expensive to read more on PHDs click on s-it-become-so-hard-to-attain-a-doctorat es-phd-in-kenya/

Posted by doroda | Report as abusive

[…] has it exactly right when he says that “our nation’s economy, security, and core values depend on [the] success” […]

Posted by America is losing another generation to science illiteracy | Report as abusive

Saying parents are irrelevant to the discussion is at best willful ignorance. That argument makes as much sense as using the local temperature of the month to prove or disprove global warming.
Yes some students overcome uninvolved parents. Some students do poorly with very involved parents. But Students with Uninvolved parents as a demographic do poorly in general. It’s a commonly documented thing in study after study that where people start affects where they go. It’s the same thing as getting a masters degree. Does that mean you’ll be more successful and make more money? NO. A lot of people are successful without them. Some are not successful with them. But there are more successful people with them because it’s an advantage.
Using the small number of students that succeed in spite of their bad parents really makes me wonder if as a teacher EDT studied statistics or did any math. A simple introductory analysis from a logic 101 course in college would easily blow apart that viewpoint if one is truly open to the facts, instead of their point of view.
That argument to me illustrates why this country has gone nowhere on any important issue for a long time. People are so invested in what they already know that facts are irrelevant. I understand. I watch bad business decisions every day because people ignore the complicated hard to solve factors that defy a quick easy decision. It’s far easier to just ignore the fact that a problem can have multiple dimensions that must all be addressed simultaneously, at least until you fail. Then pointing the finger at all the negative counterproductive people that tried to add reality to the planning process, because their negativity ruined your simplistic thinking is a great tactic to cover your ego. It’s a time tested strategy that works far too often.
As Ronald Regan once said “Facts are stubborn things”. We’ve ignored facts in this debate for far too long. Far too many people selectively ignore facts and pat themselves on the back for being better than those who ignore all the facts. The difference is the people that ignore all the facts are usually just ignorant. The people that ignore some of the facts are “Willfully ignorant” and are therefore guilty of intentionally ignoring reality. Those people have chosen to be like our congress and senate. They have become Intentional purveyors of half truths who do not one thing to make the problem better and many things to make it worse, admittedly with the best of intentions.

Posted by samuel_c | Report as abusive

[…] the time or inclination to read Steve Brill’s book on education reform, then his bombastic op-ed on the subject is a pretty good alternative. And similarly, if you didn’t read Diane […]

Posted by Steve Brill’s blinkered view of education | Felix Salmon | Report as abusive

Reads like so much one-sided, narrow-minded, and trivial propaganda. Good job of pulling out the narrow exceptions to worker-oppression to construct an argument that workers, especially teachers, are somehow better off than they really are. Good job of floating the right wing version of history. Good job.

If this is intended to be a ‘fair’ report, where is the other side of the equation? Where are the statistics on teacher salaries? Where are the statistics on PTA involvement and student success / failure? Where are the statistics on union membership and living wages? Where are the statistics on flatlining middle class salaries? Etc. America is a sad place and you are helping make it sadder. Good job.

Posted by jaw0871 | Report as abusive

[…] invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Kotlowitz’s […]

Posted by Should we really expect schools to cure poverty? | The Great Debate | Report as abusive

[…] invited leading educators to reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed on the school reform deniers. We will be publishing the responses here. Below is Jennings’s […]

Posted by It’s time for teachers unions to lead | The Great Debate | Report as abusive

[…] seems to admit as much in an August 21 column distributed by Reuters: I’ve now read all the white papers and commission reports. I’ve learned all the policy wonk […]

Posted by Steven Brill and the berated dog | Taking Note | Report as abusive

[…] seems to admit as much in an August 21 column distributed by Reuters: I’ve now read all the white papers and commission reports. I’ve learned all the policy […]

Posted by John Merrow: Steven Brill And The Berated Dog | | Report as abusive

[…] reply to Steven Brill’s op-ed for Reuters entitled, “It’s time for teacher’s unions to lead” […]

Posted by Homeroom: More Arlene Ackerman, California develops a national model for school accountability, and the states that expect the least out of their students | LearningIsAwesome | Report as abusive

“If we accept the fact that there are stages of development, another question arises which I call ‘the American question,’ and I am asked it every time I come here. If there are stages that children reach at given norms of ages can we accelerate the stages? Do we have to go through each one of these stages, or can’t we speed it up a bit?”

-Jean Piaget, in a 1967 lecture in NY; as quoted in David Elkind’s ‘Children & Adolescents’ (1970) at 24.

Our children as race-horses; running as fast as we can into a finish line we only want to be there, but one that does not exist as a ‘checkable fact’…

Question 1: What exactly are all these children being educated in?

Demonstration of various intellectual competencies at random? Increased productivity? That satisfying feeling you get when you find out you’ve scored ‘proficient’ on the test- that you have, in fact, met the ‘norm’ Mr. Piaget has implied? How to cope with the myriad mental health problems that- along with strained interpersonal relationships- are the concomitant gifts of our blind cultivation of a ‘truly modern economy’?

Answer 1: We have no absolutely no idea, but it’s the teachers’ (or their union’s) fault.

Question 2: How would Mr. Brill’s take on ‘American education’ score on a standardized exam?

Answer 2: Typical.

Fill in the blank: Presently, the human capacity for development is being shaped by the U.S. public school system in order to effect ____________________________.

(Hint: it resulted in the medical model of ‘disability’ but chimps are capable of it.)

Posted by earnest333 | Report as abusive

[…] has a series of articles about school reform based around a long article by Steven Brill (from here and here). The other articles up so far are by Diane Ravitch, Deborah […]

Posted by School reform « Petunias | Report as abusive

[…] notes that Steven Brill, in his piece for on education reform, ultimately makes the same point – that teachers are the classroom experts […]

Posted by What we can learn from Canadians | The Great Debate | Report as abusive

The first paragraph of Mr.Brill’s article explains how educational “reform” happened:

It all started with a big lie from Texas when an ambitious educator touted “miraculous” graduation gains. The press reported this without checking the facts, in the same way that the novice journalist neglected to check the facts about the lawyer’s war medals. By the time a whistleblower revealed that fraud, and not miracles, was responsible for the supposed “reform” in Texas schools, it was too late. The miracle man had already been promoted to a national position where he encouraged similar “miracles” across the country.

School fraud soon spread across the nation. Other school people followed the Texas man’s example and announced “miraculous” test scores knowing that the press would not ask, “Can you prove that these scores are accurate?” Instead, when a “reformer” came along and bragged about test scores that went from the thirteenth to the ninetieth percentile, the press again fell for it without asking “Where is your proof.” We all know what happened next.

I don’t know why the press was hoodwinked about educational “reform” but I suspect it had to do with the recession. Were newspapers too financially strapped to support investigative reporting? Were they forced to report stories that supported the philosophies of their corporate owners?

Finally reporters started asking for proof. A few independent types dared to question the “reform” but the big exposure came from USA Today. God bless them.

So, yes, a lot of us DO deny educational “reform” because now we know it isn’t true.

Posted by Linda562 | Report as abusive

[…] funny thing is that neither Brill or Tilson wrote anything that was even close to being nasty. Strong, certainly, but not exactly […]

Posted by Incivility Looks the AFT in the Eye | Dropout Nation: Coverage of the Reform of American Public Education Edited by RiShawn Biddle | Report as abusive

Mr. Brill is so right in insisting that journalists ask, “Is it true?”

Has anyone asked this about New York City’s standardized test scores? Here are some questions that need to be asked:

Are these tests the same, or nearly the same, from year to year?

Do teachers and principals know what is on these tests?

Are the tests delivered to the school before the day of administration? If so, how long do they sit in school offices and classrooms?

Who administers the test? Are there proctors in the room?

Who collects the test? Who grades it?

If a child scores at the 90th percentile on a test, what does this mean? What correlations can be made with the child’s background or his teacher? What do testing experts tell us?

Finally, would the state consider retesting the students at a New York City school with a completely different form of the test administered professionally? If so, would the scores be comparable to the ones from the previous test?

These are important questions so I hope someone asks them before more “high-stakes” decisions are made.

Posted by Linda562 | Report as abusive

LOL the school reform issues been percolating since the 70’s. I”ve lived through half a dozen innovations in math,reading, how to organize world geography, whether or not world geography is important. Arguing whether or not children need time to get up and physically move around and burn off steam. Since the 70’s common sense has been tossed out the window. First we decided to recreate the wheel because new math would be better than old math. (oxymoron alert) That was stupid math has been math. for a very long time.

Then we decided to change up reading. The biggest problem with all these changes is none of them last long enough to give children the time to actually use the tools they are being given. I’ve seen my poor children go through 4 different ways to do things like fractions in two years just because someone was freaking out about how everyone would do on that part of a standardized test. Then it was the teacher’s fault they were confused about how to do fractions. The fact that the teacher complained about it every change was meaningless. And the rule is If she’d been a good teacher she’d have made it work, reality be damned.

Welcome to the new world order where educational policy and teacher methods change with the latest twitter feed. THATS THE REAL PROBLEM. Somewhere along the line we got the idea that we could fix big complicated problems completely in a 4 year election cycle. When it doesn’t work we never throw the morons,who led the charge, to the curb we blame teachers, principles and parents for things that were shoved down thier throats with very little input or feedback from any of those groups.

It’s the new world order “your with us or against us” and “we’ll take everybody, whose not, down with us”, are the mantra of every reformer and politician out there. No wonder nothing really changes.

Posted by samuel_c | Report as abusive

[…] Steven Brill […]

Posted by The Week’s Hottest EduStories | Children’s Education Alliance of Missouri | Report as abusive

[…] #debatethis | education | Steve Brill This is a response to Michael Winerip’s review of “Class Warfare” in Monday’s New York […]

Posted by Steven Brill responds to Michael Winerip | The Great Debate | Report as abusive

[…] The School Reform Deniers Reuters – August 21, 2011 After years of studying the school reform debate, Steven Brill has published a new book, Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools. In this column, Brill summarizes his findings and takes on the reform deniers, who use the tactic of repeating things that are plainly untrue enough times so they start to seem true, or at least become part of the debate. Brill outlines a set of facts and simple questions with obvious answers that should guide America’s school reform efforts. […]

Posted by In the News: A Clipping Service – August 29, 2011 | Educate Now! | Report as abusive

I feel the writer does not truly understand how charters schools, including KIPP schools function. Working in and with such charter schools the last few yrs. I have witnessed the cherry-picking of students not explicitly but implicitly. Such charters force parental involvement, forcing parents and students to sign forms of conduct which if not adequately followed result in dismissal. Dismissal can be based on things such as failure to show up for parent teacher conferences or even missing a certain number of school days. What results is parental involvement that is beneficial to the student’s learning outcome, however, such actions cannot be followed by traditional public schools. Did the writer of the article check into the drop out rates of KIPP schools which are often remarkably high or the even the structure of the school that often forces students to repeat a grade? Furthermore, teacher burnout at such schools is very high, as many teachers feel as though instead of teaching they are marketing for a business. Often times actual teaching and education take a back seat to the marketing of performance, whether this be in actual marketing (handing out brochures, etc.) or by teaching to tests in order to appear as though real learning is taking place. A further problem is seen with the determining of school, student, and teacher performance. While the writer might argue that charters and reformers advocate non-standardized methods of assessment (observance, etc.) I have truly yet to see such actions take precedence over the standardized assessment methods. The fact of the matter is teachers are fired and hired based on student test scores. The reformers may say otherwise, but in my work with charters and especially reformers the main and ultimate goal is showing academic improvement of students on test so that they can receive further funding, and claim achievement. This unfortunately leads to a teaching to the test and an enormous emphasis on the test that actually takes away from learning and classwork.

Posted by No.37 | Report as abusive

It’s ironic that after an extensive lead-in to your point which focuses on what is knowable and now knowable, you present things that are far from clear-cut as if they are facts. Your piece raises many important issues, but ultimately falls back on the same non-fact-based rhetoric that you so eloquently decry.

“Fact: This is not a matter of money. We spend much more per student than those other countries.”

What a simple lie this is. Do we spend more than other countries as a percentage of GNP? Are our teachers paid as well, or do we just spend more on things other than salaries?

Beyond that, what point is there in an apples-to-apples comparison? All the countries with wonderful education systems have a much simpler task than we do: they are, by and large, homogeneous. There is no inner city culture war to contend with every day.

“can there really be a debate about whether their performance should be measured” – you pose this “question” as a foregone conclusion by comparing the teaching profession to, well, everything else.

Unfortunately, in teaching, you don’t have any control over the fact that your students don’t come to class 1/3 of the time, are disruptive, threaten you, and so on. Yet those teachers are evaluated on the same system as the ones who teach well-off, well-adjusted kids in wealthy neighborhoods.

Then, there’s everything that you have chosen to ignore in this debate. Don’t you think that institutional knowledge is important in teaching? Why is it so clear to you that a bunch of 20-somethings with their New England liberal arts school degree, ink still wet, are going to be able to get anything out of these incredibly difficult situations?

Do you really think any of those people will even stay there for more than a year or two? What do you think the consequences will be of a teaching workforce that, over time, has a shorter and shorter average tenure?

It is truly amazing to me that someone who obviously is intelligent can present such a well-thought-out analysis of the wrong way to analyze something, and then completely fail to use those principles by presenting opinion as if it were fact.

Posted by JamieT | Report as abusive

[…] gender, and socioeconomic inequality in educational outcomes. Now she has weighed in on author Steven Brill’s op-ed piece accusing teachers unions of standing in the way of real education reform. Her take is that while […]

Posted by EduJax: Teachers unions need to take lead; virtual schools see value in classrooms « | Report as abusive

Unions have given teachers a bad hame. Teachers have to figure out at what point they stop benefiting from union actions. Is all this bad press really worth it?

Posted by AndyAE | Report as abusive

[…] The school reform deniers [Steven Brill on Reuters] […]

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[…] Dog in this Fight” September 12, 2011By Aaron BarlowWhen someone says: I had no dog in this […]

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[…] Clark, CNN] Steve Brill: what I found when I investigated NYC teacher “rubber rooms” [Reuters] “The Six Dumbest Things Schools Are Doing in the Name of Safety” [Cracked] School […]

Posted by September 19 roundup | Report as abusive

[…] notes that Steven Brill, in his piece for on education reform, ultimately makes the same point – that teachers are the classroom experts […]

Posted by Ontario Coalition for Accountability » What we can learn from Canadians | Report as abusive

[…] a recent article, Brill claims that he has “read all the white papers and commission reports.” Yet his book […]

Posted by Shanker Blog » The Teachers’ Union Hypothesis | Report as abusive

[…] who boldly insist on eliminating the raises given for advanced degrees sometimes seem rather nonchalant about how this will affect the morale and behavior of teachers who spent years and their own money […]

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[…] Brill entitled his latest column for Reuters, a long denunciation of teacher unions, “The School Reform Deniers.” Brill’s rhetorical purpose in associating the term ‘deniers’ with those […]

Posted by On Civility In Educational Debate | Edwize | Report as abusive

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