When You Hit Bottom, Stop Digging.

It seems that Conor Friedersdorf has decided to go all mini-McArdle on us, and attempt to bluster through criticism of his juvenile attempt to solve all America’s education problems based on his in depth research into issues of teacher compensation and performance incentives.*

What results is an astonishing mixture of banal pretension, youthful bluster, and a persistent embrace of ignorance.

To channel a favorite cultural icon, let’s go to the videotape!

Friedersdorf begins by quoting an email from a former teacher who complains that (a) the definition of “good” as it modifies “teacher” varies by the person asked, and that (b) corporate America doesn’t fire their bottom 5-8% for the same reasons that Friedersdorf advocates.

Friedersdorf responds, “I dissent.”

Oh, FSM!

“Dissent?”  How much self aggrandizement and delusion can be packed into a single word?

“I disagree”… or “Here’s what’s wrong with that”… or “Not so fast…”  There are lots of ways to indicate the response to come.  But dissent?

Here’s who dissents:  William O. Douglas. John Bunyan, Henry David Thoreau.  Not young Conor Friedersdorf, striving to bring aid and comfort to corporate captains ahead of the common run of humanity.

I’ll concede Friedersdorf mere accuracy under a dictionary definition; but the cultural affect of the word contains moral weight, and he knows it, and he ain’t got it.  Its use here speaks of a small writer desperate to grow large.

Next Friedersdorf describes the worst teachers: “the ones who assault students, regularly show up late, or are consistently labeled underperforming by administrators, peers, and students alike.”

Note the sleight of hand:  “underperforming” teachers are in the same category as thugs.  And, of course, there are no numbers here.  How many student-beaters are there?  What are we talking here?

The article to which Friedersdorf links reports that 5% of LA teachers have trouble with punctuality — which is unacceptable in my book — but that the number of teachers whose performance was so egregious as to make it into the discipline/termination pipeline is vanishingly small.  Now — the piece is about deep flaws in the review and discipline system for teachers, and not the crime stats for the job —  but the data for a widespread plague of teacher violence aren’t in the single source Friedersdorf calls on for support.

Writing like this is a nasty trick. It’s the one that turned past-their-sell-by-date Iraqi biological and chemical weapons into existential threats, “weapons of mass destruction” on a par with those that could put a mushroom cloud over New York.  Most people’s response to a personnel problem like tardiness is going to be a bit different than one of criminal assault.   But in Friedersdorf’s prose, and perhaps his mind too, both sins are conflated, along with the even more vague “underperformance.”   As rhetoric, this kind of thing is effective.  As thinking, or as responsible policy analysis, not so much.

Next, Friederscorf argues that we should take our cues from corporate America, where, he alleges, folks routinely fire from the bottom, citing the example of Jack Welch at GE.  To which I’d respond, (a) that as his correspondent suggested, much/most of corporate America does not fire 10 percent of their workforce every year, and that (b) the eagerness with which he embraces a complete abuse of process is really all you need to know about the seriousness of this very serious young man.  He writes,

It’s true that empirically determining teacher performance is a thorny question. I’d answer it by giving principals wide discretion. Even if they treat a teacher unfairly, they only control a single school. There are lots of schools.

I’m not joking.  His Honor, the Judge Conor Friedersdorf, Esq. presiding jurist of the Glibertarian Court of No Appeal, (All rise!) actually wrote that.

Read it again.

He admits it’s “thorny” — read exceptionally difficult — to evaluate teacher performance, especially (as Hanushek reports in the article to which Friedersdorf refers, but has not, to all apperances, actually read) in the first few years of a teacher’s career.

So what? asks Wingnut Welfare beneficiary Friedersdorf.

Unlimited discretion granted to authority will solve such vexing questions — never mind what happens to a school when you fire the wrong 5%.  Any wronged teachers have no complaint, and/or no worries, as having been fired for incompetence, they can still traipse off to another school. Or, if you want to follow Friedersdorf down another meaning-trail, no worries, because each vicious, vindictive, corrupt, incompetent, or merely capable-of-human-error principal only governs one school.  Never mind the hundreds of kids each lost good teacher would have served.

Ladies and Gentlemen!  Here is your  conservative “intellectual” solution to education:  When in doubt let the Daddy figure  at the head of the school do what he/she wants.

Friedersdorf does attempt to justify all this on a “greater good” argument:

If a reform improves our public school system but results in some teachers being unfairly fired as collateral damage that is a tradeoff we should be willing to make. Right?

Well — no, unless you really see this as a pure binary choice:  f**k teachers or f**k the schools.  Most folks who actually spend time studying education are willing, at least, to consider an alternative hypothesis.

But it’s all good, says Friedersdorf:

… the other aspect of reform I suggested – paying good teachers more – ought to compensate for the decrease in job security.

And this, my friends, is why you shouldn’t allow the incompetent to play with power tools.

Let’s take this step by step.  First there is the moral problem here, of rewarding some people as compensation for arbitrary harm done to others, strangers.  To use Friedersdorf’s own style of argument, imagine that as a kid, I slugged my younger brother whenever I woke from a bad dream (which I actually did).  Now, does anyone out there think it was a proper compensation — proper moral action — if in response my parents gave my sister a cookie?

Didn’t think so.

Then there’s the immediately obvious problem:  if we don’t know how to rate good teachers, and if we are going to rely on principals to choose whom to whack and whom to cherish, then what do you think will happen?  I’ll go out on a limb and suggest cliques, and kick-backs and simple misallocations of resources.  You don’t even need criminal behavior to recognize that the “reform” for which Friedersdorf claims authorship so eagerly leads directly not to some Galtian free market paradise but to perverse incentives all over the map.

And finally there is the blunt fact that this whole notion is one that economists since Adam Smith have recognized leads to disaster.  Here let me surrender the floor to someone who actually does know something about all this, UCL economist Ian Preston, who wrote this in the last Friedersdorf thread:

It is no good just paying the good ones more. If potential teachers don’t know in advance how good they’ll turn out to be then not compensating bad teachers adequately when you suggest they leave will mean a worsening pool attracted to go into teacher training. Hanushek is clear about that: “Developing such policies … would also require both severance packages for those deselected and higher pay for those who would then have a more risky job.”

Again, if Friedersdorf had actually read the paper on which he comments then he would have been exposed, at least, to a hint of the complexity of the problem for which he so blithely proposes “reform.”

Instead, his suggestion is actually primed, as Ian points out, to lower teaching quality across the nation.  Make the profession less secure, more unpleasant, and what the hell do you think will happen?

Friedersdorf goes on, and he doesn’t get any better, but I’ve had enough.

Just one last thought:   Friedersdorf knows nothing of this subject — or at least his writing reveals no sources, nor historical perspective, nor reporting, no numbers, nothing, nada, zip, zero.  And yet, he sees no problem writing phrases like “the reform I suggested…”

You suggested?  Out of your infinite wisdom, your intuitive understanding of what is best in life?  As a niece of mine once asked an adult venturing an ex cathedra bit of received widsom, “who made you god?”

Exactly.  Why the blistering blue barnacles should anyone care for a second what some pompous twit thinks is “prudent” about a complicated and important subject about which he clearly has no actual knowledge?

Which leads me to my actual last words here:  Every now and then someone from the aspiring George Will circuit writes plaintively about the notion that conservative “intellectuals” don’t get any respect.

This is why.

*Thanks, I guess, to commenter Trollhatten for pointing out this post.

Images:  Albert Anker, The Village School, 1896

Jheronimus Bosch or after Jheronimus Bosch, Outer left wing of the Last Judgment triptych, c . 1482 or later

Share On Facebook
Share On Twitter
Share On Google Plus
Share On Pinterest
Share On Reddit

84 replies
  1. 1
    numbskull says:

    Well at least SOMEONE got schooled today… :)

  2. 2
    Daveboy says:

    My parents were both teachers. Over 60 years of teaching experience between them. Even they say that it’s a very difficult profession to fix, and that so much of student performance comes from outside the classroom (household and cultural).

    Interestingly enough, both of them say they never would have gotten into teaching if was as bad as it is now. The level of disrespect toward the profession and hoops that a teacher has to jump through for negligible impact on student performance has been steadily escalating for years.

  3. 3
    beltane says:

    This is just my personal preference, but I do find the raging, foaming at the mouth wingnuts to be vastly more tolerable than the glibertarians. The former group has entertainment value and makes no pretense of dealing with the world of facts and numbers. If you’re going to come across as an idiot, better to do it with brio and style.

  4. 4
    KG says:

    you missed the follow up post where a principal writes in to say that he wants to fire “good teachers” because they will often oppose stupid policies. but yes, I’m sure making schools the fiefdoms of principals would not end badly at all, not at all.

  5. 5
    kwAwk says:

    No offense, but your criticism here seems to apply to most any and every blogger and columnist. Most blogging, even around here revolves around personal perspective and opinions not research and analytics.

    The chiding of the author for wanting to defer to authority figures is strange too considering that on one hand your chiding him for wanting to defer to authority figures in schools but at the same time chiding him for not giving enough weight to the authority figures you value (Ian Preston).

  6. 6
    Erik Vanderhoff says:

    Oh my FSM, I will love you forever for that YouTube link.

  7. 7
    The Moar You Know says:

    Wow.

    Conor’s missing a vital piece of data here – not that it would make a damned bit of difference to his predetermined conclusion – but school principals are simply people who have gone through the credentialing process who couldn’t hack it in an actual classroom.

    In other words, failed teachers.

    I could go on – my lovely wife is a teacher, and the complexity of the profession and its challenges are mind-boggling – but I’ll just stop here and say that Mr. Friedersdorf doesn’t know what the fuck he is talking about.

  8. 8
    Jerry says:

    What an amazing take down on Friedersdorf’s posts. As much as Balloon Juice goes after Andrew Sullivan’s posts, The Daily Dish is distinctly worse whenever he steps away and let’s his little people take over.

  9. 9
    liberal says:

    @Daveboy:

    …and that so much of student performance comes from outside the classroom (household and cultural).

    That’s the elephant in the room, for sure.

  10. 10

    @kwAwk: I know I shouldn’t engage too deeply with comments of this sort, but do you really not see the difference between “authority” that can fire your ass and “authority” that derives from education and experience offering you a formal argument to consider?

  11. 11
    MikeJ says:

    if we don’t know how to rate good teachers, and if we are going to rely on principals to choose whom to whack and whom to cherish, then what do you think will happen? I’ll go out on a limb and suggest cliques, and kick-backs and simple misallocations of resources

    I don’t think we have to guess. There was a time when teachers weren’t represented by unions. We can look at what happened then and then look at the fact that a majority of teachers wanted unions hard enough to fight to get them.

  12. 12
  13. 13
    majii says:

    Until 2009 I taught high school for 33 years, and I have intimate knowledge of what actually occurs in schools on a daily basis. Nothing upsets me more than the “opinions” of those who have never taught one day in a public school setting. The problems some public schools are having are more complex than discussing teacher compensation, or the question of how to evaluate teachers’ performance in the classroom. Teaching is the only discipline in which everyone thinks he/she is an “expert” without having any skin in the game.

  14. 14
    t1 says:

    My favorite line was this:

    My experience of the private sector is that poor performers are fired rather than retrained.

    Isn’t this guy a twenty or thirtysomething whose work history consists of being a “journalist” and who was in grad school until a couple of years ago?

    I mean, argument from experience is a classic logic error, but usually its practitioners have some, you know, experience.

  15. 15
    clone12 says:

    But free market schooling paid with gold nuggets worked out so well at Galt’s Gulch!

  16. 16
    kwAwk says:

    @thomas Levenson:

    Are you saying that principals and other educational supervisors are by default uneducated and lacking experience in the field of education?

    If the argument is that local administrators are best suited to determining which teachers are valuable and which teachers are firable then that does seem like a reasonable argument and would seem to be in line with how most people in the world experience the work environment.

    Thank your for lowering yourself to respond to my comments though.

  17. 17
    beltane says:

    @The Moar You Know: Principals also tend to posses that time-honored skill of brown-nosing authority figures. I have known many incredible teachers, none of whom ever joined the ranks of administrators, but if you are a nonentity with a knack for fluffing the powers that be, you’re likely to make it all the way to school superintendent.

  18. 18
    DJShay says:

    Off Topic, but is anyone else not able to post to Twitter?

  19. 19
    Ailuridae says:

    @The Moar You Know:

    I don’t think it is fair to suggest that principals are all failed teachers. A lot of them become administrators for pretty simple reasons that have little to do with their teaching acumen – the chance for another advanced degree often at school district expense, better pay, an easier job etc, etc. That being said it is profoundly ignorant of how high schools actually work to suggest principals should be given broad swath to decide who stays and who goes and who is the “bottom” and who is the “top”. It would probably yield no better results than letting on students or parents vote or just terminating everyone with a SSN that ends in 7.

    Excellent post, Tom. So, when does Cole invite Conor to the front page? This is the exact same kind of glibertard hand-waving that they all do, all the time. Start from a conclusion, gloss over problematic facts, ignore the facts that disprove your assertion and pretend you engaged in an honest exercise. Rinse. Repeat. Collect check from Koch brothers.

  20. 20
    beltane says:

    @t1: Don’t you remember the Great Purge of 2008 where all the Wall Street executives and CNBC anchors were fired for their incompetence? Even old man Alan Greenspan lost everything, even the shirt off his back, and is now roaming the means streets of Washington DC, hungry, cold, and penniless. The private sector is utterly heartless when dealing with failure. How soon we forget.

  21. 21
    Sko Hayes says:

    My experience of the private sector is that poor performers are fired rather than retrained.

    He has evidently never heard of Carly Fiorina. Or the Wall Street wizards who almost bankrupted our country, and ended up getting bonuses for it.

    @t1:

    Isn’t this guy a twenty or thirtysomething whose work history consists of being a “journalist” and who was in grad school until a couple of years ago?

    A professional student? That could explain it.

  22. 22
    LGRooney says:

    5% of LA teachers have trouble with punctuality

    That’s a pretty damn good rate! Ever driven in the LA area?

    routinely fire from the bottom

    Given the performance of those supposedly at the top of the profession for the past 20-30 years, perhaps corporate America would do better to change their analysis of performance.

    Unlimited discretion granted to authority will solve such vexing questions

    All politics are local political philosophies must be test run locally on those not born into the right family first

    f**k teachers or f**k the schools

    The binary is only applicable to public schools since those within the wingnut welfare circuit have their kids in liberal elite schools which their kids will loudly denounce upon graduation.

    paying good teachers more

    Won’t happen! As noted in your last post, we have more supply than demand (since Afghanistan and Iraq, inter alia, suck off resources that could go to education) for teachers. You know what that means! It’s a buyers market!

  23. 23

    “My experience of the private sector is that poor performers are fired rather than retrained.”

    Interesting. My experience is the complete opposite. I’ve been working as a professional software engineer since 1997 and I can count on one finger the number of incompetent people who I’ve seen fired. I had a boss who embezzeled $8,000 and … she was denied a promotion and encouraged to leave (she lingered for four months).

  24. 24
    Silver says:

    @t1:

    Megan McArdle.

  25. 25
    kindness says:

    There is a very good reason why Sully won’t allow comments on his ship. It is the very same reason we would like to put comments into his ship.

  26. 26
    LGRooney says:

    @The Moar You Know: Sorry, no, most principals are not Edward R Rooney. Good principals provide leadership and can be instrumental in creating a community spirit. Much will depend on the school system and how much leeway is provided to principals to influence the teaching, curriculum, etc., but principals are not, in my experience, failed teachers.

  27. 27
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    @Private Sector Worker: I have seen truly incompetent people, those who were so bad that they contributed a negative amount of work, get fired. For the most part, being below average doesn’t get you fired, because you will always have people below average. The only time I ever see people get laid off from the bottom is if the company fucked up and is doing poorly. Nortel comes to mind.

  28. 28
    JGabriel says:

    Tom Levenson @ Top:

    Next Friedersdorf describes the worst teachers: “the ones who assault students…”

    Wait, conservatives are against corporal punshment in schools?

    When did that happen?

    I remember conservatives being big supporters of letting teachers hit kids to maintain order and discipline them. Spare the rod, spoil the child, yadda yadda.

    I thought assaulting students was supposed to be a feature in the conservative’s world, not a bug.

    .

  29. 29
    beltane says:

    @Private Sector Worker: Conor Friedsdorf will never obtain private sector experience. As a member of the wingnut welfare he will live a cloistered, sheltered existence where everything he does is deemed a smashing success.

  30. 30
    D. Mason says:

    While I’m no teacher (read: masochist) I have worked with a few public school teachers as well as teachers/trainers who work in a private setting. In my state, which is ranked pretty low in the nation on public school performance, the disparity in working conditions for public school teachers compared to their private school or corporate counterparts is unreal. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would pursue such a profession when you have strangling bureaucracy standing in the way of the one bright side – shaping young minds.

  31. 31
    RSA says:

    __

    Friedersdorf knows nothing of this subject—or at least his writing reveals no sources, nor historical perspective, nor reporting, no numbers, nothing, nada, zip, zero. And yet, he sees no problem writing phrases like “the reform I suggested…”

    Why is it that so many people think they understand teachers and the educational system based on no more apparent background than having gone to school?

  32. 32
    Martin says:

    So, California cost of living index is 131, which means that on average, it’s 31% more expensive to live here than the national average. CA teachers are among the highest paid in the nation, earning a staggering 22% more than the national average. The average class size for the US was 14 students a few years ago, but in California at the same time it was 22, over 50% higher.

    California has knowingly and intentionally paid teachers more for larger class sizes – trying to trade off smaller K-3 classes for larger 4-12 classes, to get exactly this dynamic going. For a while we had a shortage of qualified teachers, in part due to the state raising the standards for credentials and in part due to growth in the state. Further, the state recognized that it had a massive capital expenditure problem when trying to absorb an average of 60,000 new K-12 students per year, the equivalent of one moderately large city school district each year, and that larger class sizes significantly reduced the capital outlay *and* made the logistics of balancing student enrollment easier.

    And what has been the political consequence of this decision? Even though CA teachers are 50% more efficient in exchange for 22% more pay in a state that is 31% more expensive to live in, the only thing the right cares about is that we pay teachers too much.

    Conor can go fuck himself.

  33. 33
    SST says:

    Friedersdorf’s post about education was dumb. His post about how we should cheer Jonah Goldberg for not totally agreeing with Mark Levin was dumber.

  34. 34
    Martin says:

    @JGabriel: Only the uppity black kids, not their kids.

  35. 35
    batgirl says:

    @t1: And how many people do you think one could find who could argue the opposite, that poor performers are sometimes/often not fired in the private sector and even sometimes are promoted in order to rid one’s team of said poor performer? I know of quite a few examples of this, even at Fortune 500 companies.

  36. 36
    MikeF says:

    Writing like this is a nasty trick. It’s the one that turned past-their-sell-by-date Iraqi biological and chemical weapons into existential threats, “weapons of mass destruction” on a par with those that could put a mushroom cloud over New York. Most people’s response to a personnel problem like tardiness is going to be a bit different than one of criminal assault. But in Friedersdorf’s prose, and perhaps his mind too, both sins are conflated, along with the even more vague “underperformance.” As rhetoric, this kind of thing is effective. As thinking, or as responsible policy analysis, not so much.

    By all means, let’s not conflate sins of vastly different magnitude (like, say, a blog post on education reform with the push for the Iraq war).

  37. 37
    The Moar You Know says:

    I have known many incredible teachers, none of whom ever joined the ranks of administrators, but if you are a nonentity with a knack for fluffing the powers that be, you’re likely to make it all the way to school superintendent.

    @beltane: There’s a lot that I could say about this, but I’ll leave it at this – a good principal can make a school, a bad principal WILL break it regardless of how good the teachers are.

    The difference? Good principals stay at one school. The ones that jump jobs every couple of years are looking for that big superintendent paycheck (not being sarcastic) and don’t give a shit about the wreckage they leave behind.

  38. 38
    Beej says:

    Connor whats-his-face is indeed an ass, but he’s only one among many who attempt to tell us WHAT’S WRONG WITH PUBLIC EDUCATION.
    As a teacher (I have taught in public secondary schools and colleges and universities) I’ve had a first-hand look at our schools and the problems are far more complex and systemic than any little free-market pipsqueak can even dream.

    1. Once upon a time there was a captive pool of very smart women who had very few career choices. When I was in high school in the early ’60’s, my guidance counselor asked me if I wanted to be a nurse, a teacher, a secretary, or if I was going to get married right out of high school. Those were the choices if you were female, and you really had to be courageous and imaginative if you were going any other direction. Be that as it may, it did make for a lot of really smart, really good teachers who worked for very little money because they had no choice. In the years since then, the public has never been able to figure out where all these great teachers went. The answer, of course, is fairly simple. They went to be doctors and lawyers and architects and accountants. They went where the money was. See, there was this thing called the women’s movement. Are we ever going to see that kind of intelligence and drive in the teaching profession again? Not without paying teachers as professionals. You want the best and the brightest? Pay them.

    2. Public schools were founded to pass on the culture to new immigrants and to give them basic skills so that they would not be dependent on society for sustenance or take to criminal activity. For a couple of centuries, those goals were seen as the primary goals of public education. In the last 30 years, we have ceded more and more parental and societal functions to the public schools. Schools are now expected to be baby-sitters, psychologists, family counselors, diagnosticians, entertainment centers, mediators, food providers, police, social service centers, and medical first responders on top of trying to pass on the culture and teach basic skills. Public schools, as configured since the beginning did a really good job of teaching skills and passing on culture until we decided they needed to do all this other stuff. Now they do a mediocre job of all these things. Is there some way to de-couple the actual information and skill building functions of education from the rest? Believe me, I was taught how to TEACH, not how to be all these other things. I don’t have the time or the ability to be all things to all students, and it’s not fair to me or the student to put all these burdens on teachers. Let teachers teach and let the people who are trained for the rest do the rest.

    3. Stop jumping on every educational bandwagon that passes by. There are things that work in the classroom. For the most part, they are the same things that have worked for ages. Phonics work in teaching reading. Rote memorization of multiplication tables works in teaching math. Teacher-made, content-oriented tests work in testing actual learning. Standardized tests may test general knowledge, but they don’t tell us much about teacher effectiveness. Student self-esteem is not the god of education. Learning is. Self-esteem comes from knowing that one has learned and progressed and realizing that one is capable of achieving. It does not come from having an endless stream of adults tell a kid how wonderful he is because he didn’t trash the classroom. Kids know when they’ve done something good. Lying to them in the name of self-esteem does nothing but create little narcissists. Unfortunately, there is a horde of consultants, curriculum gurus, and other free-market types just waiting to make a buck by convincing the public schools that they really must try the newest, most innovative program that will ever been seen, at least until the next one comes along. For God’s sake, let’s find out what actually works and then stick to it!

    I could go on, but my fingers are getting tired and I’ve already spewed enough of my bile all over the place. Believe me, there are no simple solutions to these kinds of problems. And I’m not sure anyone really wants to find them anyway.

  39. 39
    The Moar You Know says:

    I don’t think it is fair to suggest that principals are all failed teachers.

    @Ailuridae: I concede your point. Quite a few of them are failed coaches with no classroom experience whatsoever.

    Good principals provide leadership and can be instrumental in creating a community spirit.

    @LGRooney:

    I agree, see my comment here. The problem is simply that a good principal is RARE – and to drag this conversation back to the point of the thread, due to this rarity they are the last people to whom one should grant power over a teacher’s future.

  40. 40
    The Moar You Know says:

    @Beej: Wow. All I can say is that you’re 100% right, and that anyone who reads your post to the end will learn more – not the totality, but more – about the public education system and the issues that confront it than Conor Friedersdorf will ever learn in his entire wretched life.

  41. 41
    liberty60 says:

    Back in the old days (late 70’s), when I was a conservative arguing with liberal friends, I realized that most of the sockullist ideas were based on nothing more than abstract theory and speculation, not empirical data; it was always “IF we nationalized the auto companies THEN soandso would happen.

    Flash forward a generation-

    The items on the conservative agenda-
    The abolition of minimum wage laws, environmental regulations, worker safety, so forth and so on- where on earth has this ever been tried and produced widespread middle class prosperity and universal liberty?

    Wouldn’t a cautious, conservative mind want to see the empirical evidence of these things, before embracing them with such ferocious devotion?

    Wouldn’t literate educated people want to see it and study it, before advocating that we engage in a wild social engineering experiment with a nation of 300 million people?

    Libertarianism and now conservatism have morphed into the twin of their archenemy- they both traffic in fact-free, untestable hypotheses, and dogmatic stubbornness.

    Ayn Rand has become the poli-sci version of L. Ron Hubbard.

  42. 42
    slag says:

    Here’s who dissents: William O. Douglas. John Bunyan, Henry David Thoreau. Not young Conor Friedersdorf, striving to bring aid and comfort to corporate captains ahead of the common run of humanity.

    Haha! Awesome! So true.

    Just one last thought: Friedersdorf knows nothing of this subject—or at least his writing reveals no sources, nor historical perspective, nor reporting, no numbers, nothing, nada, zip, zero. And yet, he sees no problem writing phrases like “the reform I suggested…”

    Exactly this. It’s weird! I know I’m supposed to sit back and shake my head and say “everyone does this”…but “everyone” doesn’t do this. This behavior seems to manifest in a particular attitude/mindset that I just cannot understand/empathize with. One that’s never been wrong before.

    In a sense, Friedersdorf is showing us exactly where our educational system has failed most egregiously: Many of us don’t seem aware of how very little we know about stuff. Which then makes me wonder if Friedersdorf isn’t accidentally right. Who would be more in touch with the failures of our educational than someone who’s been failed by it so badly that he doesn’t even realize it? A disturbing thought.

  43. 43
    DougJ says:

    Not a fan of young Conor. I consider him to be the Jack Johnson (the barefoot one, not the boxer) of conservatism, if only because our own Big Daddy is not technically a conservative. But he’s no Megan McArdle.

  44. 44
    Madame Hardy says:

    I originally planned to post about my bad experiences at companies that did fire the bottom 10% regularly — hint: it leads to backbiting, sabotage, and focus on high-visibility rather than high-necessity projects — when I ran into all the administrator-bashing.

    School administration is like any other kind of management; it can be done badly or well. Anarchy isn’t a successful model for school systems, nor is communal teacher governance. Teachers are apt to make decisions for their classrooms; somebody has to make decisions for the school at large, and then for the school system at large.

    My ire at this originally came from being the daughter of an assistant superintendant who rose through the ranks, and who was well-regarded at every step from teaching onward. I also want to mention the principal of my son’s high school who, on a casual walk through the premises, seemed to know every kid by name and where that kid should be. That woman was a superb principal, and she did things — like waiving district policy — that the teachers couldn’t do, because they were busy solving problems at the classroom level.

    I’m a teacher’s daughter. I’m a librarian’s daughter. I’m also a school administrator’s daughter. They’re the same woman, and I’m proud of all of them.

  45. 45
    David Hunt says:

    I thought assaulting students was supposed to be a feature in the conservative’s world, not a bug.

    Well yes, but they’re supposed to want to do it for free. Child abuse is supposed to be its own reward.

  46. 46
    Martin says:

    @DougJ: Well, he should stop trying to hard to prove you wrong.

  47. 47
    RSA says:

    @Beej:
    __

    Student self-esteem is not the god of education. Learning is. Self-esteem comes from knowing that one has learned and progressed and realizing that one is capable of achieving. It does not come from having an endless stream of adults tell a kid how wonderful he is because he didn’t trash the classroom. Kids know when they’ve done something good. Lying to them in the name of self-esteem does nothing but create little narcissists. Unfortunately, there is a horde of consultants, curriculum gurus, and other free-market types just waiting to make a buck by convincing the public schools that they really must try the newest, most innovative program that will ever been seen, at least until the next one comes along.

    Nice comment. I’ll only add that self-esteem is a bit more subtle than this. For example, recent studies have shown that brief writing exercises of the type to affirm one’s values appear to improve performance among students who are aware of race and gender gaps, when they’re on the “wrong” side of one.

    In general, though, I think your comment is right on. Especially the bit about free market panaceas.

  48. 48
    Corey says:

    I agree with most of what Frisersdorf (whatever, can’t be bothered to spell it right) is saying here, or at least the spirit of it. Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot that goes into how well a child is educated, beyond teacher efficacy.

    But then again, there’s a lot more that goes into private sector success outside of personal performance. How many people have you known get utterly screwed by an incompetent team, and end up fired or laid off as a result? I don’t see why the difficulty of assigning causation for poor outcomes in education should make it tougher to fire teachers; it’s tough to determine causation in anything.

    That said, he is probably the most pretentious writer on the internet, and the worst thing about Andrew Sullivan vacations are his endless, McArdle-esque dissertations on subjects he knows nothing about. Why Sully lets him take over like that, I’ll never know.

  49. 49
    gwangung says:

    @Beej: Standing fucking O.

  50. 50
    celticdragonchick says:

    Does the power of public employee unions make it impossible for federal, state and local agencies to operate efficiently? Is federalism dead? Are we prepared, as best as a nation can be, for a panemic disease?

    Because unions are still a boogeyman to glibitarian America.

    Free choice and all that…until it comes to choosing you own fucking associations for workplace matters.

    Conor is a fucking idiot.

  51. 51
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Jerry:

    The Daily Dish is distinctly worse whenever he steps away and let’s his little people take over.

    I agree. Even when he is wrong, Sully is smart and a damned sight better writer than the crap from Freicorpsdorf.

  52. 52
    trollhattan says:

    @DougJ:

    Oh man, “Well, you’re no Megan McArdle” has got to win the damning with faint praise award for this still-young century!

  53. 53
    Hungry Joe says:

    My daughter is in a public high school, and over the years I’ve sat in on classes and attended just about every open house/parents’ night/meet-the-teacher event thrown my way. Every single time, I walk away thinking 1) Damn, that’s a hard job; 2) Damn, they’re good; and 3) NO WAY could I do it. We drop kids off at 7:30 and pick them up at 2:30, five days a week, 35 weeks a year, saying, “Here. Look after them. Socialize them. Teach them. See ya.” It’s probably as important as any job in our civilization, yet we pay teachers squat-plus-not-much, and demonize them while we’re at it. Meanwhile, on Wall Street, glorified paper-pushers and number-crunchers, paper-crunchers and number-pushers, make ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times as much. And what do we want to “fix”? The schools, because of all the resources being sucked out of the system by greedy, I’m-in-it-for-myself teachers. All is not well.

  54. 54
    Ozymandias, King of Ants says:

    @Beej: You know, your entire post could have been a quote from my mother. She taught in the California public schools for fifty years (1958-2008) and I’ve been hearing the same things pointed out all my life.

  55. 55
    El Cid says:

    I tend to agree that we should maybe think about firing teachers who rape, burn, shoot, or fail to fill out appropriate forms for their students.

  56. 56
    Alwhite says:

    Part of the plan to destroy public education is to demoralize and degrade teachers. This is just one step. The steady drip drip drip of funding cuts, the added burden – unfunded despite the promise – of ADA, required tests upon required tests. Its all taking a toll & eventually the system will have to collapse. Then those whos parents are not rich enough to afford private schools will be fit to earn 3rd world wages & there will be manufacturing jobs in the US again.

    Plus our masters will be able to afford staff and luxury beyond the dreams of the gilded age.

  57. 57
    DougJ says:

    @celticdragonchick:

    I don’t mind the other guys who fill in, Patrick Appel and so on. I think in many ways they are a step up from Sully himself.

    Conor drives me nuts, though. Get an editor dude, no one wants to read 800 mealy-mouthed words about Four Loko.

  58. 58
    quickly says:

    here’s another gem from conor, or ‘cfredo’ as I like to call him for its godfather ring.

    http://andrewsullivan.theatlan.....ryone.html

    I honestly don’t understand the motivation for posting this.

  59. 59
    Hob says:

    It’s pretty amazing how Friedersdorf starts out with (paraphrase) “this abstract suggests that teacher quality is more important than crappy school conditions” and then tries to support that with “it would be good to fire teachers who are totally incompetent or who beat their students up.” If the latter point is what he was talking about, why on earth would he need to cite a quantitative study? The only way the study could possibly be relevant is to compare unusually talented teachers to others who are at least OK.

    It’s like saying “This study shows that businesses would do better if they fired employees who have health problems. And that makes sense, because an employee who has died from Ebola fever and has been cremated is going to be less productive.”

  60. 60
    JohnR says:

    @kwAwk:

    Thank your for lowering yourself to respond to my comments though.

    Golf claps…

    @liberty60/#41:

    Ayn Rand has become the poli-sci version of L. Ron Hubbard.

    Now hold on there, Bobbalooie! On behalf of LRon, I must take issue with that. Sure, he was a drunken, second-rate, hack writer-turned-opportunistic scam-religion purveyor, but at least he wasn’t a deranged sociopath. Also, he was a much better writer than the Divine Miss Rand.

    As for the unions, like the dodo and so many more things we remember from our youth, they’re on the way out as the GOP gets more and more of its ‘New Deal Repeal’ program through. Those among us who regard that as a good thing might do well to go back to the literature that mentions working conditions between the Civil War and the Great Depression. Unions exist for a reason. As when we casually abandon traditions, we’re going to rediscover what that reason is.
    I’m not really going to step into the whole teacher thing – in my opinion, anybody who would go into public-school teaching with his/her eyes open nowadays is either foolish or heroic. Either way, they deserve lots of respect and a good deal better pay. Punks like Our Conor deserve to spend time on the streets looking for a job that isn’t handed to him. Not that that has ever happened, or is likely to happen.

  61. 61
    Waingro says:

    @DougJ:

    Jack Johnson? I normally get most of your references, but this one might need some explaining.

  62. 62
    Jager says:

    I had all my credits to graduate from highschool at the end of the first semester of my senior year. I wanted to stay in school so I could finish the hockey season. The choice the principal gave me was to take 4 additional classes to stay in school and play on what became a state championship team or beat it and come back and get my diploma in May. The classes he offered me were Woodshop 2, Metal shop, a phy ed class and Earth Science. I went to my Chemistry teacher, a tall, deep voiced, broad shouldered woman who was one the great teachers of all time. She said let me see what I can do.
    Her solution, take the Earth Science class, hop in my car and take 10 hours at the University a couple of miles away. It was great, i got 10 hours of college out of the way, played hockey, had a great time on campus and at high school. I asked her how she got it done, her reply, “I appealed to his vanity as an administrator”. How so? “I told him what principal in his right mind wouldn’t be delighted to have a senior who not only goes to high school, is carrying close to full load in college and plays on the hockey team, I’d say thats quite a feather in a principal’s cap, wouldn’t you”? Good teacher, flexible principal. The high school has been doing it ever since, btw.

  63. 63
    DougJ says:

    @Waingro:

    He sings that song about Curious George, upside down blah blah round and round. I’m sure you’ve heard it.

  64. 64
    Phyllis says:

    @Beej: 3. Stop jumping on every educational bandwagon that passes by.

    This. I went to work for the local school district in 2003 after years of doing community/economic development work. In the course of that work, I ran into a number of charlatans, for lack of a better way to describe the f**kin’ bottomfeeders. They all had a scheme for improving the distressed community where I worked, that included our organization giving them lots of money to implement their ‘plans’.

    When I started with the district, we we were awarded a federal Reading First grant. I was bemused to have many of the same vendors who’d been chasing me for community development funds were now ‘education improvement specialists’ chasing the reading money.

    The teachers in my district for the most part are hard workers, who truly care about the kids and want them to be successful. The few in it for a paycheck and summers off stick out like a sore thumb. And even in a right-to-work state like SC, where there are no teacher’s unions, they’re still damn difficult to get rid of.

  65. 65
    Paris says:

    banal pretension, youthful bluster, and a persistent embrace of ignorance

    That perfectly sums up all of the so called youthful, up and coming conservative writers – including our own ED Kain.

    I dissent = shut up. SHUT UP!

  66. 66
    Ozymandias, King of Ants says:

    @JohnR:

    As when we casually abandon traditions, we’re going to rediscover what that reason is.

    I agree wholeheartedly. But one thing struck me: isn’t this the truly conservative viewpoint?

  67. 67
    Paris says:

    @Beej: +100

  68. 68
    asiangrrlMN says:

    I love, love, love Bosch. He is just amazing. Tom, I come for the posts, and I stay for the art. Conor is especially insufferable because he doesn’t have the experience to back up his pomposity. When I read, “…the reform I suggested”, I rewrote it in my mind as, “…the reform I pulled out of my ass”.

    He is just wrong on every level, and I commend your thorough take-down of him.

  69. 69
    Daulnay says:

    Are there teachers who beat students? Not so much. There are teachers who:
    – Made a 2nd-grade student wear a pink pacifier around his neck.
    – Made her students use pogo-sticks without a helmet.
    – Punished students for correcting him.
    – Played a heads-I-win tails-you-lose game with his students in order to impress on them that he is always right.
    – Berated a young student so much that he was afraid to go back to school the next year
    – made students run laps in the heat, and would not let them stop to get water. Neither were they allowed to stop in time to get a drink before their next class.
    – condescends to and basically bullies her students so much that when one stood up to her, the others cheered that student on. She then gave that student a referral so unreasonable that the vice-principal buried at the bottom of his to-do pile. He left it there until she withdrew it two days later.

    And principals doing stupid things:
    – punishing ADD kids by making them sit still through recess or lunch (seen this at all grade levels).
    – punishing kids who get in trouble by taking away school events like parties and field trips, which tag the troubled kids even more as outsiders.

    All in my local public school system, one of California’s top 10%, and these are only the things I have heard about.

    The good schools have fewer bad teachers, maybe, but it’s way too difficult to remove problematic teachers. IMO, the system itself isn’t structured to help the students or the teachers, it’s structured to maintain authority (and respect for authority). Learning and effective teaching definitely come in second.

  70. 70
    Elia says:

    Hey, thanks for this follow-up post. I’ll agree that unlike McMegan, Duke Friedersdorf IV seems to be genuine and arguing in good faith; but not-being-mendacious isn’t cause for a pat on the head, and I’ll always cheer on someone taking the 2×4 to the glibertarian glass menagerie. I’m astounded you can bear to read and respond to this shit, though; once Sully’s gone, I stop going to the Dish (and, honestly, it’s pretty hit-and-miss even when he’s in the captain’s chair).

  71. 71
    Waingro says:

    @DougJ:

    Oh yeah, I know who Jack Johnson is – I was just wondering why you consider Friedersdorf his equivalent. On further reflection though, I get it – they’re both overly,(yet calculatingly), earnest; bland as vanilla; and just generally mediocre.

  72. 72
    aimai says:

    @Ailuridae:

    My cousin is a principal in a small, experimental, public high school in NYC–she spent about twenty five years as a bilingual teacher in the trenches. As far as I can see being a principal isn’t, in fact, an “easier” job than being a teacher–you are simply juggling responsibility for all the kids in the school, all the teachers, all the rules, all the laws and the laws of the world outside the school as well if your students break them (which hers do). In addition, since its a highschool, you have a responsibility to try to find college placements for your kids. In a good school or in a bad school the Principal’s job is no sinecure.

    aimai

  73. 73
    liberty60 says:

    @Ozymandias, King of Ants:

    As when we casually abandon traditions, we’re going to rediscover what that reason is.

    I agree wholeheartedly. But one thing struck me: isn’t this the truly conservative viewpoint?

    Thats been my theory- that the contemporary “conservative” movement is actually a radicalized un-conservative group of social engineers.

    The New Deal reforms have been in place for 75 years or so, and during that time America prospered on nearly every level.

    Seems like a pretty good empirical case for maintaining them.

    Given what came before, seems like a pretty good case for caution about messing with it.

  74. 74
    Phyllis says:

    @Daulnay: Gah. Crap like this really pisses me off. These aren’t teachers, these are sadists. Some teachers want a room full of motionless automatons.

    And there are some who’d like nothing better than kids who come with hinged heads so they could crack ’em open and pour the knowledge in every morning, then shunt the kids off to a corner so they can get their work done.

  75. 75
    Original Lee says:

    @Beej: Succinctly put.

    I am not a teacher. I do not have the skill set to be a good teacher. I recognized this at an early age because everybody else in my family is a teacher or professor or principal or superintendant. As a parent of school-age children, I try to be appreciative and considerate of the teachers and staff at the schools my children attend, because I know 2nd-hand what they have to put up with.

    Example: a child has Tourette’s. The parents are in denial, plus they can’t afford the medication that would allow this child to be non-disruptive in the classroom. What can the school do? Basically nothing – they can’t put the poor child into solitary, they can’t force the parents to medicate, and they can’t kick the child out. Some places might have special schools for children like this, but they are mostly oversubscribed. So the disruptive child proceeds to make everyone miserable, the other children don’t learn what they need to, the teacher spends every day in an endless struggle to get something done, and there you go. Not an atypical situation, and many classrooms, even in private schools, have at least one problem child. The principal would theoretically know about this and make allowances when writing up the teacher evaluation, but with NCLB, a lot of those choices go up in smoke.

  76. 76
    Midnight Marauder says:

    @DougJ:

    Not a fan of young Conor. I consider him to be the Jack Johnson (the barefoot one, not the boxer) of conservatism, if only because our own Big Daddy is not technically a conservative. But he’s no Megan McArdle.

    Simply existing as Conor Friedersdorf is insult enough. To be compared or likened to him in any way must be an emotional Hiroshima.

    He needeth not the comparison to McArdle. Let each terrible force for ignorance exist in its own right.

  77. 77
    de stijl says:

    Friedersdorf responds, “I dissent.” “Dissent?” How much self aggrandizement and delusion can be packed into a single word?

    I concur.

  78. 78
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Beej:

    In the last 30 years, we have ceded more and more parental and societal functions to the public schools. Schools are now expected to be baby-sitters, psychologists, family counselors, diagnosticians, entertainment centers, mediators, food providers, police, social service centers, and medical first responders on top of trying to pass on the culture and teach basic skills.

    That wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if the increased mandate hadn’t gone along with budget cuts that meant that the nurses, counselors, nutritionists, and all of the other personnel necessary to do those jobs are either ridiculously overworked (I think the proportion in LA county is something like 500 students per guidance counselor) or don’t exist at all, leaving teachers to have to pick up the slack on jobs they were never trained to do, and certainly aren’t paid enough to do in addition to teaching.

  79. 79
    Beej says:

    @Mnemosyne: And the result is that not much actual teaching gets done. In the last school where I worked, there was a student staffing every afternoon after school. Sometimes there was more than one. These staffings took anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours. After that, I was expected to contact a whole host of parents via email to report on how their children had done that day. After that, I was free to complete my lesson plans for the next day, prepare handouts, and grade papers. All so that I could arrive at school the next morning at 6:30 a.m. because there was another student staffing or staff meeting or in-service that I had to attend before classes began. And this was a school that everyone was trying to get their kids into, a school that was rated one of the best in a community where the public schools are uniformly considered good, in a state where standardized test scores are routinely far above the national average. It really is a miracle that schools can manage to find any teachers at all.

  80. 80
    monkeyboy says:

    @D. Mason:

    the disparity in working conditions for public school teachers compared to their private school or corporate counterparts is unreal. I honestly don’t understand why anyone would pursue such a profession when you have strangling bureaucracy standing in the way of the one bright side – shaping young minds.

    There is a big difference between Public and Private schools – Private schools can kick students out for such minor reasons as not being interested in being in school or doing school work. [A private HS can easily ensure that 95% of students get College acceptances by only keeping the “right students”]

    As a result Private schools are a much nicer environment to work in. This results in Private teachers getting paid a good deal less than Public.

    Public teachers earn a more reasonable living wage but tend to burn out faster.

  81. 81
    MoeLarryAndJesus says:

    Even Conor Friedersdorf’s NAME bugs me. Does he have a cousin named Adolf O’Reilly?

  82. 82
    barbara says:

    I taught for 30 years, and it’s a very tough job. Very rewarding too, but physically, intellectually and emotionally exhausting. What strikes me whenever I read one of these blithe commentaries on the “teacher problem” in our schools, is that so many people with absolutely no experience of teaching have so many brilliant insights. As someone further up the thread stated, some people seem to think that having gone to school makes you an expert on education. I’ve never heard anyone say, “Last week I had surgery. This week I’m turning my punditry skills to examining the “surgeon problem.”

  83. 83
    Bill Section 147 says:

    Teachers and their unions vote for Democrats and support Democratic campaigns. According to Norquist, Rove, and the current great minds of the Republican Party the goal is to win. Rove’s self-professed plan was/is to create a one-party state (the Republican Party being that one party). Therefore the aim of conservative tactical activity in the arena of education is to destroy teachers and their unions.

    When the goal is, “improve education” they might actually consider engagement.

    If anyone followed the recent two years of Republican actions you will note the stated goal is to limit Obama to a single term. Every action, policy, program, and breath is aimed at preventing good governance. Or in the terms of current Republican politics, an Obama win.

    Winning is everything. Watch the Conan clip again. That is the entirety of their plan.

    Am I conflating conservatives and libertarians with Republicans? That argument could be made. But consider liberal pundits, liberal media voices and liberal support for Obama and the policies of his Administration and compare them to the outrage and dissent from conservatives and libertarians to the Bush Administration during the Bush Administration. The current voices of conservatives and libertarians are mostly cheer-leading or excuse-making wings of the Republican Party.

  84. 84
    Bill Cole says:

    And this, my friends, is why you shouldn’t allow the incompetent to play with power tools.

    That pretty much describes what happens at the Daily Dish when Sullivan takes a break. I haven’t actually measured it, but it always feels like all of a sudden there are twice as many posts which are quite unlikely to be worth reading. I’ve learned that when Sullivan’s vacation starts I need to just drag that feed in my RSS reader out of my main group over to where I won’t look at it regularly, otherwise I end up pondering whether he intentionally surrounds himself with reliable dreck-spewers to create a contrast.

Comments are closed.