Saturday, November 1, 2014

Focus, people. Focus.

Just ran into Mike Antonucci blowing smoke over on EducationNext. I left a comment which I share here because I like the way I ended, emphasizing what goes wrong when analysis has a lousy focus.

It seems Mr. Antonucci was a navigator. One would hope he understood the value of hitting the target. Instead he seems to be no more than an education union gadfly. Education unions, that is the target? Has he looked at teacher salaries? Some power. How about how little support teachers get from management while trying to teach young people? That's the target, right?

I'd love to see a chart showing percentage word count specifically discussing learning in Mr. Antonucci's work.

Speaking of charts, if you want to know how Antonucci got on my bad side it was his chart on dropping teacher union membership. First, it pulled that classic "lying with statistics" move of having the base of the chart at 45%. Hey, I am a math teacher, I am counting that as two strikes. Second, the chart goes back to 1983, as does a chart I found on overall union membership. That chart shows about twice the drop as in teacher union membership. Strike three, have a seat.

But who cares? Tenure and teacher unions are probably on balance good ideas in small ways, but my interest is in improving schools because I love learning and hated all but a class here and a class there in school. And because so little cool learning goes on in schools. If the premise is that teacher job security was the problem -- see how dumb that sounds?

I guess Antonucci has plenty of company in Goals 2000, NCLB, CCSS, and Bill Gates in blaming teachers for kids graduating high school with lousy skills, but last I heard even Bill is close to giving up, having found something money cannot fix. Here's my comment:

Absent more information on how teacher unions are blocking reform (well, I should say "any information") this was a long read for nothing. 
Fun always to see charts with a baseline other than zero. Move that down from 45% then superimpose overall decline in union membership (much greater) and we discover the article has no point whatsoever.
Final note: unions "weathered the storm" of Goals 2000? But then along came the wonderful NCLB "reform"? Those are not reforms, those are government being government, thinking they can make something happen by passing a law mandating outcomes while offering nothing on the causation behind the existing outcomes. Oh, yeah, that will work. 
The presumption behind such laws is that teachers and schools are not really trying, so all we have to do is threaten them. These laws are not working because the teachers and schools are doing their very best every day to help kids learn.
Society, your schools are you.  Parents, your children's school performance is you. Children, what did you do today to learn something?
Bust all the unions you want, then go back to those three questions. They will be there when you get back.
Focus, people. Focus.