Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Liv Finne Jumps the Shark

You will never be as cool as he
I've had my fun these past few months taking potshots at Liv Finne, the education expert on the staff of the Washington Policy Center. She and I don't agree on much when it comes to school improvement, but the debate is every bit as important as the result, and I'm glad that we have voices like hers in the chorus.

That said, her most recent post over at the Washington Policy Center's blog is one of the silliest that you're ever going to chance to read on education. Wrong on the objective facts, made up out of whole cloth in places, this is education analysis at its worst. Let's document the attrocities:
Governor Gregoire announced last week that she would not seek the $250 million that would likely be Washington’s share in federal Race to the Top funds.
No, she didn't. From the Governor's press release:

Gov. Chris Gregoire today announced that Washington state will submit an application in phase two of the Race to the Top grant application process.
"Submit an application in phase two" is not anything like "announced last week that she would not seek the $250 million." Further, $250 is the high end of the dollar amount that we'd qualify for, and that money is still there in Round 2.

President Obama designed the program so states can use what they learn in the first round of applications to succeed in getting grants in the second round.
No, he didn't. First round losers are invited to reapply, but it's the same principle as when you're taking the GREs: if you suck at analogies, you don't need to take the test and fail to see that you suck at analogies, you study the damned analogies and take the test when you can pass. If we suck at school reform and need legislative action to qualify for this money, then it makes sense to take that action first then apply. What Liv is asking the state to do here is take on a project that is doomed to failure in round 1, and that's a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Washington lags significantly behind other states in enacting important education reforms.
I can't argue with this, only because it's one of those wonderfully general statements that can be taken to mean almost anything. It's the next part, where Liv names specifics, that the fun really begins.

Here are a few examples of Washington’s outdated education policy:

- A ban on charter schools
Why aren't there any charter schools in Washington? Because the voters rejected a charter school law in 2004 by a 58%-42% margin; this, even though the anti-charter crowd was outspent by 3-to-1. It was the third time in 8 years that charter schools failed. If Liv hates the voters of Washington that's her prerogative, but saying that we don't have charter schools without getting into the reason why is just silly.

- A ban on merit pay for teachers
If anyone can show me, either in the WACs or the RCWs, a ban on "merit pay" for teachers, I'd love to see it, because I don't think any such ban exists.

- A ban on hiring any qualified profressional as a teacher
To offer a counterpoint here, I'd like to bring in a different perspective: Liv Finne from April of this year.
Last week, Peter Callahan of the Tacoma News Tribune pointed out to me---thanks Peter--that the provision in the new basic education bill, HB 2261, allowing public school administrators to hire teachers of "unusual competence" without certification already exists in law: RCW 28A.150. 260.
I hope that April Liv and December Liv never meet each other, because those two gals just wouldn't get along.

- Tight restrictions on how principals can run their own schools
Note the implied helplessness here--principals would love to turn their schools around, if only it wasn't for the bureaucracy. Never mind that the Race to the Top money is going to come with strings attached; that's an unfortunate fact that disagrees with the narrative that Liv is trying to get going here, so we're going to ignore it.

- Lower academic standards in math and science
No, they aren't. Randy Dorn may have made a proposal, but it sounds like it's DOA before it even gets to the legislature. Now, if she's trying to get at what external evaluations of our standards have said, fine, but if so, she failed to make the point.

- The majority of public school employees are not teachers
I've already debunked this talking point, and if it's the best ammo that the Washington Policy Center has to make the case for school change, then we can officially say that they are out of ideas.

Did you know that the majority of radio station employees are not DJs? Scandalous!
Did you know that, when the Sonics left Seattle, the majority of team employees weren't even basketball players? No wonder they failed!
Did you know that the majority of airline employees aren't pilots? Ridiculous!

And don't forget: Liv thinks that counselors, librarians, and nurses don't matter, because they're not classroom teachers. That's the slander hidden in her argument.

- Centralized curriculum that stifles teachers’ creativity in class
So two bullet points back Liv was railing against our low standards, and yet here there's something wrong with centralized curriculum. You can't have it both ways: if every child in the state is supposed to achieve at a certain level on a certain set of learnings, then of course the curriculum is going to be standardized.

- Union seniority, not classroom performance, determines teacher assignments.
There's also the whole "teacher choice" thing, too, and while Liv often talks about classroom performance, I've not seen her talk about how exactly that performance would be measured in a reasonable way. It's a fun exercise to make the union the boogeyman in the system, but again--what are the facts?

While school funding is at an all-time high, Washington spends more than $10,200 per year on each student, only 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom.
First, consider the disconnect--how is it possible that less than half of school employees are classroom teachers, and yet nearly 60% of the money is reaching the classroom? The answer is because teachers make more that support staff, which is why this is yet another meaningless statistic.

And does that $10,000 per student figure grab you? It should, because it's crap. Playing around over at the OFM website shows that the two-year K-12 budget is about $15,700,000,000. That means that this year the state will spend $7.85 billion dollars on K-12. Divide that by the 986,000 FTE we have in the state, and you get $7,961 per student. That's what Washington spends.

(Note: I could have easily shaved another $300 off of that by using headcount instead of FTE.)

Like any good writer, though, the best has been saved for last, and this is a doozy:

Research shows that leaders of the state’s powerful teachers union remain the primary obstacle to reform. In January legislative leaders will consider ways of changing the state’s education regulations to make Washington eligible to receive the added assistance being offered by President Obama, but immovable union opposition is the main underlying reason Washington will not receive Race to the Top funds.
Consider that first sentence on it's own:
Research shows that leaders of the state’s powerful teachers union remain the primary obstacle to reform.
"Research shows"? Really, Liv? If this is the casual relationship that you have with research, that explains an awful lot about the other mistakes you've made in your writings.

That's just lazy. "Research shows"? Show me the research on how the WEA has blocked all of your "reforms" above, and I'll show you screed from people with an agenda. That's a poor, ridiculous shortcut--"research shows", my heiny. If that's how you're going to use the term, then you can't be trusted with any research, ever, that you bring to the table, because you clearly don't understand what research is.

I may not agree with the Evergreen Freedom Foundation when it comes to education, but they at least spend the time on projects that add to the overall discussion. Similarly, I'm not a supporter of the League of "Education" Voters, but damned if they haven't been making more headway in Olympia lately than any other education group.

Liv hits more wrong notes than Florence Foster Jenkins. It's regretable, because the debate deserves better.

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

She's a nutter all right. Harvard needs to take that degree right back.

3:55 PM  

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