Education Policy: What John Kitzhaber Needs to Learn from OEA

Steve Novick

Warning: This post is really long. Only read if you’re obsessed with K-12 policy and/or are especially concerned with OEA / Kitzhaber relations.

In 2008, the Oregon Education Association and John Kitzhaber were among my more important supporters. (Heck, all of them were important! - but you know what I mean.) This last weekend, I went to Eugene to try to get my friends at OEA to endorse my friend John. I failed; they endorsed Bill Bradbury.

I don’t think OEA’s endorsement changes the dynamic of the race. In 2008, it went a long way toward establishing me as a real threat to win. But we had already surprised some people with our underdog effort; in fund-raising, for example, as a first-time candidate, I raised $500,000 in 2007.  Bill Bradbury, by contrast, has not been as strong as might have been expected; for example, after over 20 years as a public figure, he raised $187,000 in 2009.  And Jeff Merkley and I were both unknowns, tied in the polls (with huge undecided) most of the way; now, with both candidates well-known, John claims to have a 34-point lead, and Bill hasn’t offered up his own poll disproving that. And, of course, I wound up losing anyway. Kitzhaber is going to win the nomination.

But as a critical friend of John Kitzhaber, I hope he doesn’t draw the wrong lesson from Saturday’s result. The easy, self-justifying way for John to look at the result would be this: “Bill gave them a misleading, crowd-pleasing message, saying he could raise $2 billion by eliminating unnamed tax breaks. I gave them a challenging message that made them uncomfortable, saying the state budget for education has to be based in part on performance, rewarding districts for doing the right thing.  They’re scared of anything with the word ‘performance’ in it, so crowd-pleasing and misleading beat challenging and uncomfortable. I’m going to win the nomination anyway, and anyway, I’d rather be right than Governor, so I’m not going to worry about it very much.” 

It’s true that Bill gave OEA a crowd-pleasing, misleading message. Having read the State Tax Expenditure Book very carefully on numerous occasions, I can say, and have said, that Bill’s saying that we can find $2 billion by going through the tax expenditure book is just wrong – unless, that is, he plans to extend the property tax to intangible assets. (More on that in a future post.)  

But John needs to understand, really understand, why OEA members are worried about  ‘budgeting for performance.’ The fact is that it’s difficult to come up with good metrics for measuring ‘performance’ in education – at the teacher, school, or district level – and even more difficult to figure out how to improve performance.  Educators know that. So when you talk about using the budget process to improve performance, they have two questions: (1) What does that mean? And (2) How? 

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep on trying to find fair ways to measure and real ways to improve schools. To his credit, John told OEA he needed their help in developing the metrics and the policies involved in 'budgeting for performance.' And John is right that if we are going to sell the voters on giving more money to education, we have to be able to tell them some version of: ‘We’re taking care to spend the money on stuff that works.’ I think he’s even right that it’s not clear that the 10-year-old Quality Education Model is the be-all end-all of education policy.

But this is awfully hard stuff – as this New York Times article shows.  If you’re interested in education policy, I’d suggest reading the whole thing. And I certainly suggest that John read the whole thing.  

The article is about a guy named Lemov who is looking at data that seems to show that “who the teacher is” is (when you adjust for demographics etc.) an extremely important factor in how much children learn: perhaps more important than class size.  Lemov has been going around looking at what unusually successful teachers do, and trying to develop a “taxonomy of good teaching” – a list of dozens of recommendations.

As the article says, we don’t know yet if this ‘taxonomy of teaching’ will make sense in practice: “while Lemov has faith in his taxonomy because he chose his champions based on their students’ test scores, this is far from scientific proof. The best evidence Lemov has now is anecdotal …” And the article notes that some pretty serious people believe “that good teaching must be purely instinctive, a kind of magic performed by born superstars. As Jane Hannaway, the director of the Education Policy Center at the Urban Institute and a former teacher, put it to me, successful teaching depends in part on a certain inimitable “voodoo.” You either have it or you don’t. “I think that there is an innate drive or innate ability for teaching,” Sylvia Gist, the dean of the college of education at Chicago State University, said when I visited her campus last year.”

But what’s really interesting about the article, at least to me, is that Lemov started out with a charter-school, merit-pay, reward-performance perspective and, as he learned more, began to doubt it. Here are pieces of the article:

[One day Lemov] made a depressing visit to a school in Syracuse, N.Y., that was like so many he’d seen before: “a dispiriting exercise in good people failing,” as he described it to me recently. Sometimes Lemov could diagnose problems as soon as he walked in the door. But not here. Student test scores had dipped so low that administrators worried the state might close down the school. But the teachers seemed to care about their students. They sat down with them on the floor to read and picked activities that should have engaged them. The classes were small. The school had rigorous academic standards and state-of-the-art curriculums and used a software program to analyze test results for each student, pinpointing which skills she still needed to work on …

Incentives are intuitively appealing: if a teacher could make real money, maybe more people would choose teaching over finance or engineering or law, expanding the labor pool. And no one wants incompetent teachers in the classroom. Yet so far, both merit-pay efforts and programs that recruit a more-elite teaching corps, like Teach for America, have thin records of reliably improving student learning.

Lemov spent his early career putting his faith in market forces, building accountability systems meant to reward high-performing charter schools and force the lower-performing ones to either improve or go out of business. The incentives did shock some schools into recognizing their shortcomings. But most of them were like the one in Syracuse: they knew they had to change, but they didn’t know how. “There was an implementation gap,” Lemov told me. “Incentives by themselves were not going to be enough.” Lemov calls this the Edison Parable, after the for-profit company Edison Schools, which in the 1990s tried to create a group of accountable schools but ultimately failed to outperform even the troubled Cleveland public schools …

That’s the main reason OEA members worry about words like “performance”: It’s not as easy as saying “get better,” because we don’t have a MapQuest to betterness.  A lot of people are trying hard, and not doing anything that seems obviously ‘wrong,’ but by conventional measures they seem to be ‘failing.’ And I really think it’s tougher than health care, where it seems that there are a lot of procedures and drugs that researchers know are of limited effectiveness, and less cost-effective than other alternatives, but which are used anyway because of shrewd advertising and messed-up financial incentives in medicine.

I outlined my own views on what the State should be doing on education in this space a few months ago, as follows:

To a great extent, test scores don’t do a heck of a lot more than reflect the demographics of the district or school in question.  But there are occasional outliers. There are some places and subjects – like Lebanon Elementary in math – which stand out; where the teachers and students are beating the odds.  A major mission of the Department of Education should be to study those places, find out what they’re doing, figure out if it’s real (sometimes test scores are a kind of mirage), figure out if it’s replicable, and let other schools and districts know what’s going on in those schools. I’m not talking about mandates, I’m not talking one-size-fits-all; I’m not saying we can expect every district to produce miracles; I’m talking about doing some research and distributing the results.

I still think that. John might object that that’s not going to be enough to convince the voters we’re spending education money on ‘what works’: that there has to be a budget hook of some kind. He might be right. Maybe we can somehow condition some money on districts somehow demonstrating that they really, really looked at what the outliers were doing and really, really tried some of it out. (Emphasis on the ‘somehow’ – I admit that I don’t know exactly how that would work.) 

What’s ironic about this situation is that John – policy-wonk, apolitical John – is quite right about the politics: voters want assurance that we’re spending the money on the right stuff. OEA members are right about the policy problem: It’s not very clear what the right stuff is. If John is to be a successful Governor, the two of them are going to have to work hard, together, to make good politics and good policy in education. 

  • Bob Baldwin (unverified)

    A good start on the discussion. A few thoughts (and a disclaimer that I'm from AFT, not OEA, but we have similar concerns):

    Any plan, to be successful also needs the Superintendent of Instruction full engaged. K-12 policy can not be driven solely by the Governor. That is further complicated by having K-12 Boards locally elected. So, we have local control, state-funding and state "reform" movements.

    The sad reality is that we have two conflicting political histories involved: one is the long period where teachers were paid little better than poverty wages, largely due to a lack of legal ability to unionize. The other is the right-wing lunatics wanting to use "education reform" to push their anti-union and anti-education platforms through the political process.

    When teachers not only have to do their jobs, but also get to be the targets of everything from the anti-evolutionists pushing religion in the schools, the Sizemore crowd who simply want to take away their health care and pensions and the well-meaning policy wonks with no actual experience in the classroom who think they have the next great "teaching method", is it any wonder vague references to "reform" from a candidate for office raise skeptical eyebrows?

    Conversely, a candidate who says he'll trust the teachers, protect them from wage-busting 'merit-pay' schemes, and focus on funding the one objective measure we have of what "quality education" would cost has a fair chance of being well-received.

  • mp97303 (unverified)

    Seems to me there are three elements of the education system: 1) Who does the teaching 2) Whom they are teaching 3) How they are teaching

    Based on my experience with some teachers today, they seem every bit as motivated and qualified as my teachers in the 70-80's.

    One has to wonder if the problem lies with the students or the methods. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

  • Bob Baldwin (unverified)

    mp97303One has to wonder if the problem lies with the students or the methods. Anyone have any thoughts on this?

    Careful, mp, you're dangerously close to suggesting that parents, not teachers, might have the real responsibility for how well their kids are doing.

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    Thanks for this one Steve. I've been kicking this one around for years, and am glad to see that, at the very least, there are decision makers that are aware of both the problems and the complexity of any possible solutions.

    I'm sure there are lots of comments coming that will get the whole thing sorted out in a couple of sentences, and now I won't feel so lonely when I see 'em.....

  • Steve Novicks Blog? (unverified)

    When did BlueOregon become Steve Novicks personal blog?

    Here is what Steve isn't telling you. The "ten year old Quality Education Model" is actually updated every 2 years and is a moving model that takes into account the very latest in research AND it attaches a price tag to reach that goal. It's a great model. It just hasn't been funded.

    And Bradbury has raised over $300,000 and he isn't taking money from insurance companies, anti-choice hospitals, big pharma, Clear Channel (the right wing radio outfit that pushes Rush and Glen Beck on the country) and out of state physcian groups like John Kitzhaber.

    Who gives you money matters and Kitzhaber's contribution report should scare the hell out of any teacher, public employee, trial attorney and health care advocate.

    And Steve is dead wrong about the Tax Expenditure thing. Will it take hard decisions and giving up your favorite credit, loophole or deduction for corporation or an individual? Yes. Is it worth it to fund schools? Yes.

    As a "progressive" I find it very weird how much Steve Novick is attacking the progressive in the Democratic race. It's bizarre and it is relentless and it's offensive.

    Bill Bradbury is at least trying to talk about funding for schools. Trying to talk about finding new mechanisms to do it. What is Steve and John Kitzhaber's "solution"?

    More studies. Oh and a sales tax. Right.

    Steve Novick is on the same side as the Oregonian in attacking Bill Bradbuy. Never thought I would see that day.

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    SO-o-o-o-o, just read the linked article and I wanna be the parrot on Steve's shoulder and urge everyone to have a look.

    One point that jumped out was that in some cases, educators, hostile to "hierarchical power structures", shoot themselves in the foot by refusing to consider some very effective teaching methods, due to their distaste for "manipulation".


    When I take my dogs out for a run in the woods, they constantly refer back to me for guidance at road forks or other decision points. They will not thank me for telling them to "do their own thing". Dogs, like humans, are pack animals and are pretty happy when the Alpha Dog (me) actually fulfills his appointed and natural role within the pack.


    IT's not the case that demanding construtive interaction crushes creativity and personal growth. Sometimes it provides tools that will enhance and give form to creative impulses in the students.

  • Julie Fahey (unverified)

    I am in absolute agreement that "education" as a whole should be paying more attention to studying & researching what kinds of instructional practices work. But, I think there are some major barriers to effective research right now, not the least of which is good quality data (e.g., quality tests that focus on growth not proficiency, data systems that allow researchers access to the data in usable formats, consistent data between districts). The field of education research has been improving in recent years, but is still a ways from where it needs to be. There are a few people whose work I respect and find interesting, though (Eric Hanushek at Stanford is one).

    I also find that when research studies deliver messages that people find counter-intuitive or challenging (e.g., most research shows that masters degrees, unless they are in the subject taught, have limited value in terms of student learning), they sometimes feel threatened/defensive instead of taking the attitude that there might be something to learn there in terms of implications for education policy.

    In my mind, that's the real value/potential of charter schools, not as replacements for traditional publics but as "laboratories" -- i.e., let a few select schools have some additional freedom to try things a different way (but with accountability to make sure they're not trying things that are total failures), but let's study what they're doing and figure out what works (e.g., longer school days/years?). I don't really think that that's actually happening on a large scale in the US (a concerted effort to study what's working in charter schools and what's not and apply those findings to traditional public schools), but the potential is there if we chose to view them that way.

  • LT (unverified)

    MP--thanks for the summary:

    Seems to me there are three elements of the education system: 1) Who does the teaching 2) Whom they are teaching 3) How they are teaching

    Any number of people looking at 1) have found some interesting things.

    a) The variety of people hired as teachers can vary from students just having graduated and gotten their teaching certificate (which these days includes a requirement to get a Masters degree). It can include people who know more than one language or have a technical skill.

    b) People who have been teaching for decades and have seen all sorts of bandwagons come and go.(search "Evaluation of ITIP" to read about a program which was supposed to be the answer to everything in the 1980s and turned out to be somewhat effective in some situations but no panacea or silver bullet)

    c)Midlife career change and/or someone who left teaching because of layoff or some other event (such as having kids) and later came back

    2) Classroom makeup is very important. Someone on a TV show was saying of high stakes testing "well, if you have the same students from Sept. to June and they still cannot pass the test...". How many schools in this country have a turnover rate where half of more of the names on roll sheets in Sept. are changed by June because some kids moved away and other kids came to the school?

    Or has anyone done that research? There is no such thing as the "average" classroom.

    Kids are not widgets. How many individuals are in each class, how many motivated to learn with supportive parents at home, how many facing hunger or other problems, etc? How many are foster kids?

    3) Not every teaching technique works with every student. Elementary teachers are different than secondary teachers. The article Steve linked to appeared to treat "teachers" as all alike and if there was only a way to measure and improve all of them.........

    Of course terms like "budget for performance" cause alarm.

    But Steve's premise "But John needs to understand, really understand, why OEA members are worried about ‘budgeting for performance.’ bothers me---sounds like the OEA delegates are supposed to be representative of all teachers, and I doubt that. Not every teacher is an active union member (esp. if they have kids, or have extra duty like coaching, or perhaps they were active at one point in their career but not another time).

    Search the term Bloom's Taxonomy and you will find different levels of knowledge and of asking questions (which also goes to MP's #3).

    Do all teachers really think what the OEA endorsement delegates think? Have all OEA endorsements been wise?

    It has been long ago enough now that many people may not know the story of the bill to outlaw teacher tenure in Oregon.

    Despite much anger in some circles (people who actually knew the candidates), the OEA made 2 Republican endorsements in what seemed to some people as more political gamesmanship as anything else. In at least one case, a candidate who had not taken orders from the OEA lobbyist and had not voted 100% OEA party line in the late 1980s was going to be "taught a lesson" by the endorsement of his opponent. But what lesson was really learned?

    The 2 authors of the bill to end teacher tenure (final version much better than original version which sounded like any teacher could be fired at any time of the year with little or no due process recourse, and private sector unions saw as an attack on all collective bargaining) were Neil Bryant and Gene Derfler. Both had been OEA endorsed. Bryant was more arrogant than Minnis (if you can imagine that)---didn't think he owed OEA an explanation. Both claimed to know what went on in "the public schools" because someone they knew was a teacher.

    When the anti-teacher tenure law passed, how many teachers realized that the sponsors of the bill had been OEA endorsed?

    Anyone who thinks what happens in one school is replicated in all schools across the state shows their cluelessness. I was a substitute in over 60 public schools over the course of 15 years, in 2 counties (and one Catholic school). The small country schools had more in common with the Catholic school (small enough to know everyone etc.) than with the large city schools. Some schools have largely white kids from upper income backgrounds. Some schools are ethnically and economically diverse. Some have excellent principals. Some do not.

    Matter of fact, that bill was passed when the Senate was 20-10 Republican.

    Bryant was being interviewed on the radio a few months before the next general election. He really had the same kind of problems with public school teachers that Sizemore has with not only teachers but any taxes or tax supported entitities.

    Bryant told the interviewer that studies had shown 2% of teaching staff were incompetent. "So, in the next session, we are going to pass a bill saying every school must fire 2% of its teachers every year or explain why".

    Gosh, was it the radio interview which caused the majority to decline to only 17 that November?

    I share Steve's concern "It’s true that Bill gave OEA a crowd-pleasing, misleading message. " about the Tax Expenditure Report.

    More importantly, I think it is time to respect the intelligence of voters.

    In the 21st century, people don't vote as blocs, and an increasing number don't vote as partisans.

    What we all need to learn is that a ballroom full of people is not a representative sample of all Oregonians of a certain category. The idea that "teachers" all agree with the OEA endorsements is as stupid as saying all Democrats or Republicans should follow leadership and not ask tough questions.

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    John Kitzhaber has outlined his plans to the OEA members statewide as well as school board members.

    Some features in his plan:

    A. Creating a system for tracking student achievement to determine how are investments in public education are working B. Putting a high priority on recruiting qualified new teachers C. Allowing more flexibility at the school district level to achieve performance goals D. Creating incentives for local innovation at the classroom and building level. E. Creating - with the leadership of teachers and schoolboards -- a teacher/administrator performance assessment tool linked to student performance and based on multiple factors which teachers believe to be valid F. Moving to a standards (outcomes) based system of instruction and assessment.

    Steve Novick captured the OEA position. The members who did not vote for the Kitzhaber endorsement were like steelhead going after the big shiny spoon (fluted-blade spinner spoons).

    Like any good steelheader you don't buy a certain style of spoon because "you heard it works on em" nor do you buy spoons from a too-good-to-be-true bargain table.

    John Kitzhaber wants to work with teachers and school boards to understand how each style of spoon works. He wants a joint conversation on water hydrodynamics, back-trolling and jigging the unfishable water.

    The trophy lure worked. Bradbury set the hook.

  • LT (unverified)

    As far as Pat being a parrot on Steve's shoulder,

    Here are some quotes---and they strike me as things people have said off and on for years:

    "When Doug Lemov conducted his own search for those magical ingredients, he noticed something about most successful teachers that he hadn’t expected to find: what looked like natural-born genius was often deliberate technique in disguise. “Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.

    It was the tiniest decision, but what was teaching if not a series of bite-size moves just like that?"

    From the video: "expects attention, makes students more likely to listen"

    "vision of a positive outcome" is something teachers are doing for many years.

    "Lemov calls “a vision of a positive outcome.” Zimmerli’s thank-yous and just-like-you’re-doings were a perfect execution of one of Positive Framing’s sub-categories, Build Momentum/Narrate the Positive.


    What concerns me about the video linked to the article is this: How often in the course of a day does a teacher have the luxury of sitting at a table with less than 10 students like that? What is the rest of the class doing?

    I suggest everyone concerned about this try to visit an actual school.

    The video looked like something from teacher training classes.

    The only way a teacher can work with students at a table like that is to have the rest of the class occupied doing something else, and hopefully an assistant in the classroom to help keep an eye on the rest of the class.

    All those framing categories and subcategories won't work if a class is full of students who don't have supportive parents at home (a kindergarten where all the children had been read to from an early age will be different from one where kids grew up with very few books in the house, or where hunger may have been a problem, or parents who worked odd hours just to keep food on the table, parents who didn't have a large vocabulary (regardless of the language they speak, etc. )

    Excellent teachers use many of the things described. But giving teachers a checklist of such things, without concern for the actual kids in the actual classroom and what they need may not bring the intended result.

  • mp97303 (unverified)

    If LT is correct, and to a large extent I suspect he is, that much of the problems with education are external to the schools, (hunger, instability, lack of parental involvement) then no amount of money poured into the school or any fancy new education theory is going to change anything.

    We must address the root problem.

  • TSnyder (unverified)

    To change education in Oregon is going to take a paradigm shift on many levels. Yes, I am a seasoned teacher. Yes I belong to OEA. Yes, my kids go to neighborhood public schools in Oregon. Yes, I am a die-hard liberal.

    Ideas for starters:

    1) school day/week/year change from agrarian model 2) job security through seniority needs to be revisited 3) tapping into parent education at an early level-much like the Harlem Children's Zone 4) teaching to the whole child, not just to the basics 5) providing before and/or after school programs due to our two-household working parents 6) balance of assessment--not put so much on the test but to also get back to a portfolio of what kids can actually DO 7) of course stable funding is necessary 8) guarantee more equity in programs offered across the state. Why should one district get specialists or Outdoor school or sports but others have nothing? 9) on the fence about charter/magnet schools as laboratories, but why not just allow neighborhood schools to decide what is best for their population? 10) Empower staff to make more decisions in the direction of educating their students. We have really gotten into this top-down, magic bullet program fixation 11) Have a State of Oregon Education Summit to finally have a real conversation on how to get started on fixing all this 12) I agree on looking at what works in this state and learning from it. Why reinvent the wheel when you don't have to?

  • LT (unverified)

    TS, I work as an AVID tutor in a couple of high schools. The one where I work most often has a computer database of some sort where the grades are available online.

    Teachers enter the list of assignments, which have been completed, the score, and then students know how they are doing in class and parents with computer access can find out the same thing. Students then have no excuse (they can access this from school computers) for not knowing that a particular assigment was not turned in and the value of that assignment is 20 points or whatever.

    What all candidates for public office (esp. statewide and legislative) should do as a public service to all of us is to discuss your list of ideas publicly.

    Bradbury has a reputation for being more vague and Kitzhaber more specific. Now that he has the endorsements, Bradbury should start speaking out on the details of your questions.

    Then people who care about education but were not at the convention could make up their own minds whether to follow the endorsement or not.

  • (Show?)

    All those framing categories and subcategories won't work if a class is full of students who don't have supportive parents at home (a kindergarten where all the children had been read to from an early age will be different from one where kids grew up with very few books in the house, or where hunger may have been a problem, or parents who worked odd hours just to keep food on the table, parents who didn't have a large vocabulary (regardless of the language they speak, etc. )

    The 9 page NYT article addresses race, income, parental involvement, and so on by arguing that these negatives can be overcome and cites examples.

    Did anyone actually read it?

    The author is very clear on anecdotal vs. statistical evidence, but the tiny details like how teachers are trained (good and bad), the practical utility of successfully bringing the class to attention, dealing with incorrect answers, and engaging all students, seem pretty compelling.

    Sometimes the mundane and boring details are the keys to improvement. Some of their examples have moved entire grade level achievements upward in a single year.

  • mp97303 (unverified)

    Have kids today been taught to respect teachers? Could that be an underlying cause of so many problems in the classroom?

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    What disappointed me about the OEA endorsement process were the issues that were apparently left out of the discussion. There are small, but very significant, changes needed in Oregon’s education system that neither OEA, nor Kitzhaber, nor Bradbury are addressing. In a changing global economy and shifting global geo-political power, if we do not strengthen our foreign language programs, especially Mandarin, and send our high school students to study abroad, our next generations will be severely handicapped in their search for peace and prosperity. If we do not aggressively use online education to increase learning and reduce costs, our competitors who do will leave us in the dust.

    I urge OEA, Kitzhaber and Bradbury to “give peace a chance.” Support the changes above.

  • (Show?)

    Dave: Don't worry, it is starting, it may not be as wide sweeping as you would like, but the classroom I share at the high school I work at is with the Mandarin teacher.

    Of course it'd also be nice for a full time speech teacher and for speech education to be brought back as a graduation requirement. I'm fine with folks learning to communicate in mandarin, but it'd be nice for everyone to be better public speakers.

  • LT (unverified)

    Pat, I will give you a mundane and boring detail from an actual classroom where I work as an AVID tutor.

    There is considerable small group work in the classroom, which means giving instructions, getting into groups and doing the work, then getting the room back in order and getting the attention of the class to summarize and make announcements.

    A very effective means of communication is used to get attention,

    If you can hear me, clap once If you can hear me, clap twice If you can hear me, clap 3 times

    (sometimes the content is varied to keep everyone on their toes).

    It works like a charm. Having read the article, I am not sure where in the taxonomy it fits. If the taxonomy is working for certain teachers, that is great. My point was that if every teacher is supposed to drop what they are doing and adopt this taxonomy, I'm not sure that alone would improve education---every decade there is a new version of that idea.

    On P. 7 of the article, it says "Ball had a goal for that day’s lesson, and it was not to investigate the special properties of the number six. Yet by entertaining Sean’s odd idea, Ball was able to teach the class far more than if she had stuck to her lesson plan."

    This is great in that it shows an adaptable teacher. But that does not mean the taxonomy automatically makes every classroom K-12, regardless of subject, more effective than it is currently.

    Studies have shown that one of the skills many colleges and employers want that students may not have unless given practice is team-work, small group problem solving, that sort of thing. Another is written and verbal communication.

    Formulas for the way all teachers should teach (which this seems to be) don't lead to automatic success in every subject in every grade level.

    Online learning has a place, but it does not replace things like small group face to face group interaction, or the ability to write, proofread and rewrite, or the ability to argue with classmates about the best way to solve a math problem.

    Education is too complex to be reduced to a simple formula. Just because the distributive property in math is a x (b + c) = (a x b) + (a x c) does not mean that everything in life can be reduced to a formula or a taxonomy.

    This is a very broad subject. Everyone here who has not been in a classroom recently should look into the possibility of observing a classroom somewhere, or better yet, becoming a school volunteer.

    It would please me no end if the candidated for Gov., for St. Supt., even for legislature, got involved in this debate and carried it outside a blog into a public discussion.

    What do parents think about their child's education? Are there differences between schools? How do we measure student performance---standardized tests which may or may not match what particular students have studied (should every school in the country study the unit on --- in the month prior to the standarized test so that scores will show how they learned that unit?)----or other kinds of testing?

    Multiple choice testing vs. "show your work" paper and pencil math tests, or vs. essay questions in English, social studies, or science, and ability to have conversations and write paragraphs in a single language are varied ways of testing what students have learned.

    Would be interesting to know who here had a more intellectually rigorous public school education than what goes on in some classrooms now.

  • Kitzhaber is going to win the nomination? I guess God has spoken.... (unverified)

    I think Democratic voters should take Mr. Novick's godlike assertion that Kitzhaber will win the gubernatorial nomination with a good dose of skepticism. It comes from an endorser of Kitzhaber (repaying a debt for Kitzhaber's 2008 endorsement of him) who may have much to gain if Kitzhaber wins. But, folks, as this slew of education endorsements for Bill Bradbury demonstrates, this race is far from over.

    Folks are just beginning to focus on this race, after the M66 and M67 campaign through January, and the February legislative session. Kitzhaber's poll numbers are unimpressive for a former two term governor, and his support is lukewarm. I suspect as Democratic voters start focusing on this race, these education endorsements will bring more consideration to Bill Bradbury, and the poll numbers will tighten up.

    There are environmental organizatons to still weigh in. I have to wonder how Kitzhaber's shaky kind of I'm okay with LNG comments from the Lake Oswego debate will play with environmentalists -- at least we know Bill Bradbury has been out front and clear on the stupidity of LNG from the get go, whereas Kitzhaber seems afraid to offend some business entities with big bucks and some labor groups. (See comment posted above by "Steve Novick's blog?" re where some of those big campaign contributions are coming from for Kitzhaber -- real Democrats should be troubled.)

    And SEIU and AFSCME haven't weighed in yet. Bradbury has showed up and fought hard for workers in the Providence health system. Don't be surprised if they support Bradbury.

    In short, despite the assertion of an endorser of Kitzhaber, Mr. Novick (who was endorsed by Kitzhaber in 2008, so this is tit for tat, and who maybe might finally get a decent paying gig if this Kitzhaber things pans out....), THIS RACE IS ANYTHING BUT OVER.


    Postscript -- just gotta wonder, Mr. Novick, with all your criticism of Bradbury, and very lengthy posts, will you ever get around to the weak education budgets that Kitzhaber proposed when he was governor? Will you ever acknowledge that it was Kitzhaber himself who appointed the commission that created the QEM and called on our legislature to support QEM? Will you ever interrupt your scrutiny of Bradbury's funding proposals and tell us just what you think the chances are that John Kitzhaber will enact a sales tax in Oregon?

    Or would doing so endanger your chances of a nice paying gig if the candidate you endorse happens to win?

  • (Show?)

    Postscript -- just gotta wonder, Mr. Novick, with all your criticism of Bradbury...

    I haven't seen Steve (or anyone else) pile on to anywhere near the degree that the BB folks have been taking shots. That being the case, these accusations remind me of the playground truism "she who smelt it, dealt it".

    Just curious... why are so many of the folks astro-turfing for the Bradbury campaign posting anonymously? C'mon Stacey, you and your people really should sign your work if you're going to be taking all of these shots.

  • Ron Morgan (unverified)

    "Have kids today been taught to respect teachers? Could that be an underlying cause of so many problems in the classroom?"

    I think that the degree to which kids respect their teachers, or not, reflects the respect that teachers are held in the kids' communities and homes. If a kid comes from a dysfunctional home in which they receive neither material nor psychological support for learning, it seems obvious that respect for teachers may be low. But even homes in which respect for authority is prominently taught and expected may not extend that respect to teachers, especially if the teachers teach subjects, like evolutionary biology, that the families don't feel are appropriate. Then there is the larger societal attitudes. The right, which one imagines would naturally support respect for authority, couched as a return to traditional values, focuses a large amount of opprobrium on teachers. The left generally supports teaching as a profession, but is also generally less authoritarian. Then there is the consumerist thrust of the larger society that teaches that respect is reserved for those who have the most stuff, so unless your teacher drives a Testarosa they must be a chump.

  • richard (unverified)


    " The fact is that it’s difficult to come up with good metrics for measuring ‘performance’ in education – at the teacher, school, or district level – and even more difficult to figure out how to improve performance."

    The teacher unions are opposed to measuring performance. The obstruct every effort to do so as 1000s of public charter and private schools do all across the country.

    Jesuit, Catlin Gable and many others in Oregon have no problem measuring performance.

    Novick " if we are going to sell the voters on giving more money to education, we have to be able to tell them some version of: ‘We’re taking care to spend the money on stuff that works.’ "

    We're almost 20 years into CIMCAM to measure performance with standards based reforms. Outcome based education which has always failed. You know, stuff that doesn't work, and Mr. Steve Novick has been a staunch supporter of this costly failure in our public schools.

    Like every other thing that doesn't work like ESL.

    Novick and company have been more concerned about the poiltical grip on education that it's performance or cost.

  • Patrick Story (unverified)

    Among the "external factors" mentioned above, I have not seen the most important one: corporate marketing to children. Against the influence of lewd prime-time sitcoms involving children such as "Two and a Half Men," violent computer games, junk food, and all the other abusive elements of corporate junk culture that we could list if we had time, teachers don't have much of a chance.

    And yes at this point I do think corporate junk culture ranks above the influence of parents. For one thing, it also influences parents, some of whom are teenagers themselves. And in many cases children have no parents in their lives; have stressed-out, neglectful, inpoverished, or abusive parents (often it's only one parent); or are homeless. The shockingly high percentage of K-12 students today who require free or subsidized lunches is an indicator.

    I'd like to learn from more informed people what can be done to address this hugely profitable, though devastating, corporate intervention into our classrooms and the lives of our students.

  • Who the hell is Stacy? (unverified)

    I don't know who Stacy is, and I suspect a blueoregon administrator could tell everybody if all the pro-Bradbury comments are coming from one place. I don't think they are. Maybe Sal is loathe to admit there are plenty of Bradbury supporters out here...

    Really, Steve Novick, a Kitzhaber endorser, gets free rein to post long columns on blueoregon which, no surprise, are myopic and one-sided in favor of his candidate, and a handful of commentators push back in favor of Bradbury, and out come allegations of astroturfing? Give me a break....

    Taking shots? Novick claimed the other day that Bradbury is in fantasy land and in need of a finger wag for proposing we do a thorough examination of all tax breaks -- especially corporate tax credits -- in Oregon with the goal of trimming them back 5%, all the while his candidate Kitzhaber is talking of a sales tax?

    Perhaps blueoregon should welcome an endorser of Bill Bradbury to post long columns here that present one-sided views of this race? That might level the playing field.

    The irony is that Novick's claims are contradictory and self-defeating. If you baldly assert and believe that Kitzhaber will win the primary, why bother slamming Bradbury twice this week? Gee, Steve, he's gonna win, so why not tell us Kitzhaber is so great, instead of ripping into his opponent?

    I think this falls in the "Novick doth protest too loudly" category. He's really not that confident that Kitzhaber will win. Perhaps the Kitzhaber camp is growing very nervous after last week's sweep of education endorsements for Bradbury.

    I think Kitzhaber will have to show some leadership and not take the primary for granted, instead of half assing it. He kept his head down while a whole lot of folks, including Novick, worked their asses off to pass M66 and M67. That's not something I'm looking for in my nominee for governor.

  • LT (unverified)

    Is this a topic to only debate the Gov. primary, or is it also about education?

    The endorsements have been made. Historically some endorsements go to the winner, and some do not. Can we move on and discuss issues?

    Let's see both candidates debate the issues described here---incl. role of parents, root causes, etc. Decades ago, before the OEA was the powerhouse it is now, a doctor suggested high protein snacks available in all elementary classrooms as a way to boost nutrition and thus boost learning.

    These days there are stories about "backpack projects"---students going home from school on Friday with a backpack full of food for the weekend, thanks to contributions.

    Folks, if political activists are never mentioned, if people who hate the OEA saw it disbanded, that would not change the hunger level in public schools. If teachers worked 10 hours a day, if administrative pay was reduced, that would not solve the problems of parents who may be working long hours, or not native English language speakers, or perhaps worse, substance abuse problems in the home.

    These problems existed before this year. Whoever wins the primary, the problems will still exist. So can we please leave this as a topic with as little partisan infighting as possible?

    Where does A.Alley stand on these issues? Or doesn't it matter because some people want to turn John and Bill (long time friends orig. representing the same SW quadrant in the state) into the feud between "Merkleyites " and "Novickians" in 2008?

    What good did that do?

    Is it impossible for partisans to discuss the substance of issues?

    If so, it is time for nonpartisan elections.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Posted by: Steve Novicks Blog? | Mar 12, 2010 12:11:10 PM

    When did BlueOregon become Steve Novicks personal blog?

    Funny you should ask!

  • (Show?)

    "Perhaps blueoregon should welcome an endorser of Bill Bradbury to post long columns here that present one-sided views of this race? That might level the playing field."

    And we do. Any of our regular contributors is welcome to post on any topic they like, including long columns about Bill Bradbury, if that's what they choose to do. As for "one-sided", well, it's a blog, that's kind of the whole point. Have an opinion, state it.

    Most of our contributors have been here for years, long before anyone knew there would be a Bradbury/Kitzhaber race. It would behoove both campaigns to reach out and work to earn the endorsements of those contributors, if they care about what appears in this venue. Not that complicated.

  • Joshua Welch (unverified)

    bill maher on education

    "But isn't it convenient that once again it turns out that the problem isn't us, and the fix is something that doesn't require us to change our behavior or spend any money. It's so simple: Fire the bad teachers, hire good ones from some undisclosed location, and hey, while we're at it let's cut taxes more. It's the kind of comprehensive educational solution that could only come from a completely ignorant people."

    the entire piece:

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Posted by: Kari Chisholm | Mar 13, 2010 7:25:12 AM

    "Perhaps blueoregon should welcome an endorser of Bill Bradbury to post long columns here that present one-sided views of this race? That might level the playing field."

    And we do.

    FWIW, I would love to see Henry Kraemer put together a post for Bradbury. Yes, I'm making a lot of assumptions, but I can definitely imagine that working.

    As far as categorizing who BO supports, I tend to watch the way folks switch candidates more than their bottom line picks. Watching contributors here, over the years, there seems to me to be a strong trend away from backing anyone that isn't reasonably electable. I think that's what separates the contributors from the long standing gadflies most, is that we regularly back people that have no reasonable hope of winning, but then, for us, it's not a business. The political whores view that as something they outgrew with Tiger Beat. Once that first "Kitz Has a Clear Lead" poll came out, their eyes glazed over.

  • LT (unverified)

    It is the duty of campaigns to win over voters. Someone telling friends face to face that they are really inspired by a candidate beats numerous blog posts. But then, no one will ever know how many people do that with any particular candidate.

    If someone finds a candidate like Bradbury inspiring, then more power to them. Let them go on blogs, go out and campaign for the person, shout it to the rooftops.

    But if someone worries about a candidate sounding vague, or if the candidate says something the voter questions (Steve's paragraph beginning "It’s true that Bill gave OEA a crowd-pleasing, misleading message." falls in that category, IMO) more power to them too.

    Democrats are strongest when they debate issues among themselves, and weakest when there is some sort of enforced conformity such as "all good Democrats believe..." or "polls show....therefore you should...".

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)

    I've studied performance and quality management deeply and am also the child of a lifelong gifted teacher who had the "voodoo" that enabled her to connect with an astounding range of kids, from impoverished to affluent, and to have them engaged and excited about school.

    And one of the clearest insights that I can give you is that the whole machinery being wheeled into place to test teachers and try to pay for performance is worth than worthless, it's positively counterproductive.

    Read Alfie Kohn's excellent book, "Punished by Rewards" for a good introduction to a critical reality: that tying play to rewards turns play into work and then into drudgery. And good teaching is play, the delightful result of connecting with other people enough to teach them new ideas and skills and to, even more fun, teach them how to keep doing it for themselves even when the teacher is long gone.

    Note that the military and especially the elite sectors of it (fighter pilots, submarine sailors, special forces types) all earn the same amounts as their less-elite brethren and voluntarily do so. And nobody with any serious experience in either the military or management would suggest pay for performance in the military, because pay for performance schemes are so destructive to the esprit of a unit that must work collaboratively to accomplish shared goals.

    The right hates the spending on public schools because so much of it goes to benefit people the right considers unworthy -- the poor, people of color, union members, and intellectuals, and the just generally secular. When the US economy lost the constant impetus for growth in the early 70s (because we no longer controlled the price of oil after we peaked, and control of energy prices shifted to the Saudis), the right turned back to the campaigns against all those sectors that had been put on hold by the Great Depression, WWII and the post-war boom, when labor and management were able to reach a truce because the pie kept getting bigger.

    Another reason the right hates public schools is that, in a nation operated under a godless constitution, as ours does, the schools can't be run as madrases for the dominant religion, which is what the right wants. (See, Texas, control of textbooks; struggles against evolutionary theory, etc.)

    The visceral hatred of the whole enterprise is what created the impetus for Reagan's phony "Nation at Risk" hysteria and for all the standardized testing mania since then -- the desire to crush the teachers' unions and rebuild profit rates by cutting public spending on the unworthies so that more could be spent on the proper function of government, funneling money to shareholders. "National Standards" became the battle cry because, without standardized tests, corporations don't have much that can be sold to schools. But get a testing mania going and presto! You can constantly be selling not just the expensive tests and grading services but then also the "fix its" to come in as "turnaround" artists to "save" the districts you turned into failures with your tests. Suddenly spending on social sciences (always suspect anyway), arts, music, and vocational programs plummets, spending on corporate packaged materials and curricula climbs, and teachers are being told that the only thing that matters is test scores. It's been a very, very effective campaign to undermine and at the same time profit from public schools, and the worst part of it is how many supposed progressives have bought into some or all of it.

  • LT (unverified)

    Thank you, George!

    And for the "run government like a business" crowd:

    Once upon a time there was a popular management book titled UP THE ORGANIZATION.

    It had a variety of ideas, from "thanks is an underrated form of compensation" to calling the office when out of town to see what the receptionist sounded like. The sort of attitude that is shown in the new show Undercover Boss.

    One of the big points made was that in some of the most effective military units (regardless of country), officers ate with enlisted soldiers, esp. commanders.

    Successful education includes teamwork and treating teachers as professionals. People who are down on "the public schools" don't like it when I talk about my experience as a substitute in a Catholic school. Leadership mattered. Teachers were treated as professionals. Students were treated as individuals. When I noted that it seemed the 7th graders were often more mature than the 8th graders, one of the teachers said "that class has been squirrely since they were in 4th grade".

    The "pay for performance " crowd over the years has really wanted a manufacturing model---raw materials in, widgets out.

    But as has been pointed out many times, a factory can reject flawed raw materials if they are shipped to the manufacturing plant.

    Public schools are required to accept all students. The ones who are very bright in one subject and serverely challenged in another. The ones who have moved often and relish a whole year spent in one school. Students who may or may not have parental support (incl. foster kids), who may or may not have books at home, who may or may not have English spoken at home, who may or may not have good nutrition at home.

    Law and court decisions say that students who cannot walk, students who have sight or hearing problems, students who are developmentally delayed must all be accepted in public schools.

    There are schools with many such students, and some with very few students dealing with challenges. Does anyone seriously believe that there is a magic solution which makes the schools with challenging students on par with the students in the advantaged schools?

    The intelligent pay for performance ideas don't accept panacea (even Teach for America isn't perfect, according to what I have read). They have more intelligent proposals such as recruiting top talent and paying them extra to work in challenging schools, recruiting top graduates (or midlife career changers) in areas like math and science or those who would like to work with grades 5-8.

    Of course, that is not flashy, it is substance.

  • (Show?)

    SN Blog, many Air America stations were on Clear Channel. they may carry a lot of right-wing radio, but that's mainly because there's a shitload of money in those shows. like most corporations, money trumps just about everything else.

  • (Show?)

    OK, at first I was going to post something along the lines of: "WTF. 100 years after Dewey and with a couple of million teachers working on a new batch of kids every year, we still don't know what works? This isn't an education problem; it's an administration problem." Or something like that.

    THEN I read the NYT article. I'm a little less smug now, but only a little. I still think it's absurd that this kind of research is only happening now.

    So it seems we have some tools to measure kids performance, and this article gives some insight into how to teach to improve performance. That's all good, and of course we should use them so we can tell if we're getting better or not.

    There is still a whole other issue of what result are we trying to accomplish: what do we expect kids to know. This week's announcement of Obama's revision to NCLB, and the Common Core curriculum that's being discussed both seem to me to miss an important target. I don't think it's reasonable to expect every kid in HS to come out ready for college. I think it IS reasonable to have every kid come out prepared to be a productive, informed citizen of the world. That means a lot more than math and english, which is where all the emphasis seems to be. (Not counting Texas, of course.)

  • LT (unverified)

    ". I don't think it's reasonable to expect every kid in HS to come out ready for college. "

    This is why "prepared for college and careers" is important.

    I went to a college fair at a local high school (students I work with prepared the displays) where the food was prepared and served by students from the catering class.

    Smart people studying education know that not all students learn at the same pace or learn the same way. The article made it sound like teachers in front of a classroom are the only way to go. What about students working in groups on projects? That didn't seem to be mentioned.

    I do hope no one reading that article thinks they know everything there is to know about education. And what works at elementary level is different than what works in middle school or high school.

    That is why "what works in education" strikes many as simplistic.

    Research like this has been reported in educational journals for a long time. Just because a major newspaper does a story doesn't mean no one thought about the subject before the story was written.

  • LT (unverified)

    I agree with this paragraph---let's have an open public debate on what is right for schools in 2010.

    That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep on trying to find fair ways to measure and real ways to improve schools. To his credit, John told OEA he needed their help in developing the metrics and the policies involved in 'budgeting for performance.' And John is right that if we are going to sell the voters on giving more money to education, we have to be able to tell them some version of: ‘We’re taking care to spend the money on stuff that works.’ I think he’s even right that it’s not clear that the 10-year-old Quality Education Model is the be-all end-all of education policy.

    I also believe that quality of schools about the whole school, not about some magical idea which if only implemented would make education perfect.

    So this Steve quoted from the article is very interesting:

    "Yet so far, both merit-pay efforts and programs that recruit a more-elite teaching corps, like Teach for America, have thin records of reliably improving student learning."

    Part of it is that kids are not widgets. They are individual human beings, often with differing learning styles (some learn best by hearing, some best by written word, some best by doing, or some combination of those). Sometimes working in a small group on a problem will lead to an AHA! moment---"NOW I get it!".

    Add to that the fact that teachers at most have students for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and have no control over what happens to students outside of school.

    And the often neglected aspect of all this is the same as it is in business (although some do not want to admit this). Well managed organizations tend to prosper over poorly managed organizations.

    But those who want to bash teacher unions don't want to talk about school administrations.

    2 stories in the SJ recently about this. One about an independent audit of Salem-Keizer schools by a group which audits many businesses. School District Audit Garners International Certification.

    The other about the infamous problems with WESD finances.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)

    Dave, in all your "Mandarin, please" postings, there's something I've never asked. You assume that there's a future trade relationship there, no? One can argue that the relationship will be more of a administrative one. Their administrators are learning English. They don't care if we speak Chinese when we're paying down debt, buying cheap consumer goods, being hacked by their military or accepting their carbon targets. Helps actually, if we don't. Point is, 50 years out, why do you think we'll have anything to offer the Chinese that we would need Mandarin for?

    like most corporations, money trumps just about everything else.

    Wring your hands! And, when progressives talk about getting money out of politics and third party candidacies, who's the first to talk about "mother's milk" and realpolitik? The assumptions are the same, and I care not if one accomplishes the greatest good and the other the greatest evil. The ends don't justify the means, and plenty of that "can-do" kingmaker crowd that so many insiders here are so proud of use identical means and assumptions. At least you know what sets us off. Exactly what is setting you off now. But we're data oriented, not personality worshippers, and it doesn't change it around 180 degrees for us to know who's speaking. That's why you hate anonymous postings, isn't it?


    BTW, is where this all went wrong. There are few people in the history of ideas that I found myself hating in so many different fields as Mr. Dewey. He is the embodiment of every reason why this society is screwed. Figures he'd have to screw around in education just to make SURE his toxin spread to every cell of the body politic. Americans love new ideas. Why do only the bad ones last? That's the TEA phenomenon in a nutshell. "Bringing back every bad idea; the older the better!" Should be "Old discarded wishful thinking: At least we understood it!"

  • George Anonymuncule Seldes (unverified)

    Why Teachers Unions Matter:


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