Sunday, August 30, 2009

It's Conclusive: Strikes are Good for Students

So Liv Finne, who is to education policy what Michelle Bachmann is to rationality, has a poorly-formatted post up about how Kent shouldn't strike because of their poor WASL scores. The Evergreen Freedom Foundation (EFF) has piled on, too, in an editorial that I'll spend more time with in a different post.

The obvious argument for a union hack like myself, then, is that those scores would be better if the teachers weren't going to useless meetings, or if the class size was what it should be, or if teachers didn't flee the district to brighter horizons.

I think it's Al Shanker who's attributed with the idea that if it's good for the teachers then it's good for the students. With that in mind, I used the School Report Card that the EFF released last spring, along with their list of districts that have been out on strike recently. On the EFF report card a rating of "6" is considered average, and the cut-off score for a 6 is to be ranked 570 or higher.

In Bellevue, which went out on strike in 2008, the elementary schools are ranked #1, 615, 104, 104, 44, 431, 650, 30, 855, 16, 49, 259, 227, 227, 295, 461, 57, and 401. That's an average ranking of 268, well above average. Only three schools in Bellevue are ranked "Below Average" on the EFF metric. If you take them out, the average ranking rises to 180.

Collective bargaining and a strike don't seem to be slowing Bellevue down any.

Let's try Shoreline, who went out in 2007. Their schools are ranked 95, 104, 136, 295, 295, 372, and 372. That's an average of 208, even better than Bellevue. Every school in Shoreline, which also had labor troubles this year, is above average in the EFF rankings.

How about Lake Stevens, which had a strike in 2003 and is looking likely to have another one? Their 6 elementary schools are ranked 259, 401, 208, 136, 227, and 549. An average ranking of 297, and again no school is below average on the EFF scale.

If strikes hurt, then every post-strike district should look like Marysville (2003, an average ranking of 687, 6 of 10 schools below average). These school rankings, though, show that there isn't much of a trend to be found.

So if a strike is the ultimate manifestation of out of control teachers, and if out of control teachers are the antithesis of student achievement, then why do the kids in districts that have gone on strike seem to be doing pretty well?

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Blogger Dr Pezz said...

Great post!

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Trent said...

Um, I hope you don't teach statistics (same for commenter Pezz). Correlation is not causation.

Regardless of the test scores, it seems that what Kent teachers are teaching students is that the ends justify the means. So what if the law says you can't strike? So what if the contract (your own contract!) says you can't strike?

When I was in middle school my district went on strike. I can tell you, listening to my teachers and observing the process, I have had less respect for teachers ever since. It's perfectly reasonable for people to want better pay and more benefits, but to dress everything up as "for the children" is very offensive. It was then and it is now. The worst part: I think many teachers actually believe it, believe that they are completely and perfectly disinterested and somehow above everyone else. I guess that explains a strike to force Kent to spend more money in the mist of a recession.

12:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Trent, I think you missed how Ryan was using the same logic as the original writer to make his point.

You know, this is a tough time to (suggest or) strike; however, when is a good time?

In the 90s boom teachers were told to wait and that they would get theirs. Then the state started to make good and then took it away again. I'm set to lose over $3000 this year based on the actions of the state, but I'm told I should suffer because others are, and I don't like that logic (because it really doesn't make all that much sense).

Teachers were never part of the problem but are basically told to shut up and teach. We have families too, and we wait and wait with no real help in sight.

What do you suggest?

6:28 PM  
Anonymous Trent said...

This is a tough area and I worry that my answer will offend. I hope you'll credit me that it isn't my intent.

If I was unhappy with my compensation (the sum of my pay, benefits, and job satisfaction), I might look for another job. On the other hand, if I really like my job but the pay isn't what I could make elsewhere, I have a decision to make. I might keep the job and cut the budget. Actually, since I'm an attorney who works for a non-profit, that's kind of where I am (no cable TV, no iPods, etc.).

One reason why teacher pay can, by some measures, seem low is that it has been regarded by many as a highly desirable field (high job satisfaction offsets low pay) and that benefits, including pensions, have been considered by many to be highly desirable as well).

Look at private schools. Teacher pay is often less, but job satisfaction is much higher and results are often better. (For my argument it doesn't matter so much the reason for the latter.) Private schools have no teacher shortage because many teachers would rather have a better work environment and less money rather than the inverse of those. Teachers at private schools have families too, after all.

From a business and public policy perspective, we know we are paying teachers enough if we have enough teachers and are achieving the desired results of excellent education. The trouble right now is that certification creates a false shortage (this is true in many other fields, I'm certainly not singling out teachers) and for a variety of reasons job satisfaction has suffered. I think some of this is the system's inability to offer both positive and negative feedback (psychologists have shown that people thrive on the kind of accountability that provides rapid, visible, comprehensible consequences; a lot of people make a big deal about performance pay, but I think weeding out underperforming teachers would improve satisfaction more.)

For my part, I've looked at what actual teachers make (it's all public record) and it's often above the average salary of private workers in the same area.

3:48 PM  

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