Surprise, Surprise: California Mayors Education Roundtable Sucks up to Duncan
Our group is also committed to supporting California's application for stimulus funding. We recognize the state's vital role in the application process, particularly with respect to developing a statewide data system that links student achievement and teacher effectiveness. We are prepared to work with the California Department of Education, the Governor's office, and others to expedite development of such a system. In the coming weeks, members of the Mayors Roundtable will meet with state leaders on this issue, pledging our support, offering our assistance, and establishing reciprocal commitments that will build accountability for results into this process. At the same time, we are keenly aware that the state's continuing fiscal challenges are likely to place significant concstraints on its ability to prepare a successful application for federal funding; if that is the case, the Mayors Roundtable remains interested in submitting an alternative approach for your consideration.
As we work with the state, our commitment to working closely with the Admionistration is unambiguous and unqualified. Innovative national leadership at this critical uncture is essential. Decisions that affect the viability of our cities and the future of our children are unfolding and must engage our collective best efforts. We welcome the opportunity to continue our conversation with you about strategies for lasting change, and we hope to meet with you again on one of your future trips to California.
City of Berkeley
Tom Bates, Mayor
Julie Sinai, Chief of Staff Mayor's Office
Bill Huyett, Superintendent, Berkeley Unified School District
City of Chula Vista
Cheryl Cox, Mayor
City of Fresno
Ashley Swearengin, Mayor
Michael Hanson, Superintendent, Fresno Unified School District
City of Long Beach
Bob Foster, Mayor
Chris Steinhauser, Superintendent Long Beach Unified School District
City of Los Angeles
Miriam Long, Deputy Mayor for Education, Youth and Families
Angela Bass, Superintendent, The Partnership for Los Angeles Schools
City of Pasadena
Bill Bogaard, Mayor
Edwin Diaz, Superintendent, Pasadena Unified School District
City of Richmond
Bruce Harter, Superintendent, West Contra Costa School District
City of Riverside
Ronald Loveridge, Mayor
Gladys Walker, Superintendent, Riverside Unified School District
Wendell Tucker, Superintendent, Alvord Unified School District
City of Sacramento
Kevin Johnson, Mayor
Ting Sun, Education Advisor, Mayor's Office
Susan Miller, Superintendent, Sacramento City Unified School District
David Gordon, Superintendent, Sacramento County Office of Education
City of San Bernardino
Patrick Morris, Mayor
Arturo Delgado, Superintendent, San Bernardino Unified School District
City of San Diego
Terry Grier, Superintendent, San Diego Unified School District
City of San Francisco
Gavin Newsom, Mayor
Hydra Mendoza, Education Advisor, Office of the Mayor
Carlos Garcia, Superintendent, San Francisco Unified School District
City of San Jose
Don Iglesias, Superintendent, San Jose Unified School District
City of Santa Ana
Miguel Pulido, Mayor
Jane Russo, Superintendent, Santa Ana Unified School District
City of Santa Barbara
Marty Blum, Mayor
J. Brian Sarvis, Superintendent, Santa Barbara School District
City of Stockton
Ann Johnston, Mayor
Anthony Amato, Superintendent, Stockton Unified School District
Now we get the person willing to speak out for principle.
City of Richmond
Office of Mayor Gayle McLaughlin
July 23, 2009
United States Secretary of Education
LBJ Education Building, Room 7W311
400 Maryland Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20202
Dear Secretary Duncan,
Thank you for taking the time to come to San Francisco on May 22 and meet with the California Mayors Education Roundtable. I appreciated the opportunity to hear your ideas about improving education for our children. On July 8, several members of the California Mayors Education Reoundtable sent you a follow-up letter, and I would like to explain to you why I opted not to sign that letter.
While I applaud the notion of recruiting and retaining effective teachers, especially in the classrooms where they are needed most, I don't believe your proposal of offering teachers more pay for higher test scores will accomplish this. The attached article from Dissent Magazine by a retired teacher who dedicated her career to working with low-income students in Richmond, San Pablo and Oakland provides an important perspective on the nature of motivation in the field of education, and reminds us of the overall persistent correlation between socioeconomic status and academic achievement.
Where is what my constituents tell me is needed to turn around schools facing challenges.
These are things that I believe we should be strongly advocating, and I would encourage you to do so in your role as US Secretary of Education
Mayor, City of Richmond
Pay-Per-Score: Arne Duncan and Merit Pay
by Susan Harman
Dissent, July 2009
OUR NEW Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (and his president) argues that we need to "incent" teachers with "merit pay" to get them to do better: "I think we cannot do enough to recognize, reward, shine a spotlight on, and yes, incent excellence." To understand how many things are wrong with this assumption, we need to take it apart.
What does he mean by doing better? He means getting our students to score higher on the tests. But researchers have found that test scores correlate very highly with socio-economic status. Those schools with poor kids and high scores have likely resorted to gamesmanship: They hold kids over in ninth grade, so they donÃ¢€™t lower the all-important tenth grade scores and push out low scorers. They "re-norm" the tests and set new cutoff points so that last yearÃ¢€™s failing score is this year's "proficient" score. They teach to the test by turning the curriculum into "drill-and-kill" test preparation--or simply teach the test itself (otherwise known as cheating).
So why does Duncan call it merit pay then? Is there anything meritorious about relentlessly subjecting kids to test prep? Defining a schoolÃ¢€™s success or a teacher's merit by high test scores is not just simplistic but profoundly wrong. A school devoted to test prep is a bad school whereas a school where children and adults delve deeply into a rich, experiential, relevant, and sophisticated curriculum is a good school. The latter may also have high scores but that's often a function of the socio-economic status of the children who go there since this kind of school tends to be populated by families who do not tolerate a test-prep curriculum.
Let's instead call merit pay what it is: pay-per-score.
Duncan thinks the reason children score low is that teachers donÃ¢€™t work hard enough at raising the scores. He might actually have some insight here. I don't know a teacher who thinks the tests provide any instructionally useful data, so why invest the time or energy in prepping students for them? Since teachers hate doing test prep, which is what much of our curriculum has become, perhaps Duncan is right that only money will motivate us to raise scores.
What would actually doing better in schools look like? It would mean building on what the teachers are already doing: designing engaging curriculum, forging relationships with children and their families and neighborhoods, and collaborating with their colleagues. It would take full advantage of the fact that many, if not most, teachers love working with kids. Duncan's concept of merit pay suggests that he doesnÃ¢€™t know this. Instead, he demands we substitute "drill-and-kill" test prep, which engages no one except the companies that publish the tests and the prep materials (the Big Three are Pearson, Houghton Mifflin, and the Bush family favorites, CTB/McGraw-Hill).
Would we need to be bribed to teach genuine curriculum better? Do our business and political leaders think people go into teaching for the money? Perhaps they havenÃ¢€™t looked at teacher salaries lately. Don't they know that people go into teaching for the love of the craft and the kidsÃ¢€”in other words, because they feel a "calling"? Ask any of us, and IÃ¢€™m betting not one will say, "Ever since I was little I loved playing school and handing out bubble answer sheets to the other kids and making them fill them in."
If the federal government imposes a pay incentive based on test scores, who would want to teach poor kids since it's clear that they often score low on tests. Now, I know I just said that teachers don't do it for the money, and we all know that many of us are committed to working with poor kids. Nevertheless, to know up front that you will be paid less than those up the hill working with the rich kids--that could "dis-incent" some teachers. Plus the fact that middle-class parents substantially subsidize the "frills," which have been driven out of the generic school day by the pressure to raise test scores, means that the hills schools have art, music, libraries, foreign languages, P.E., science, trips, and recess. The flatlands schools--without these parental inputs--suffer from "drill-and-kill" phonics and arithmetic. Regardless of one's commitment to the poor, who would want to administer scripted texts as opposed to teaching genuine curriculum?
But perhaps the Broads, Gateses, and Business Roundtable folks who are running education in this country donÃ¢€™t love what they do. Perhaps they do, indeed, need to be "incented" with money to do what they do. Perhaps misery loves company. I feel sorry for them and would urge them to spend some time with a good teacher in a school that has escaped the drill-and-kill curricula these same businessmen have imposed on the rest of us. Perhaps a visit to the Sidwell Friends School, in Washington, D.C., where Malia and Sasha go, would change Duncan's perspective on what's valuable to learn--and what motivates teachers to teach it. It certainly ain't pay-per-score.
Susan Harman is a semi-retired principal, teacher, psychologist, and writer, and the Coordinator of CalCARE, the California Resistance to the standards and testing madness.
California mayors and school superintendents
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