Mirroring Microsofts failing system

Vanity Fair has a preview of an about to be published expose on the failings of Microsoft, the software company that now corporate education reformer Bill Gates founded

Analyzing one of American corporate history’s greatest mysteries—the lost decade of Microsoft—two-time George Polk Award winner (and V.F.’s newest contributing editor) Kurt Eichenwald traces the “astonishingly foolish management decisions” at the company that “could serve as a business-school case study on the pitfalls of success.” Relying on dozens of interviews and internal corporate records—including e-mails between executives at the company’s highest ranks—Eichenwald offers an unprecedented view of life inside Microsoft during the reign of its current chief executive, Steve Ballmer, in the August issue. Today, a single Apple product—the iPhone—generates more revenue than all of Microsoft’s wares combined.

It's revealed that one of the primary causes of the decline, is related to the evaluation system they implemented, a system which in many aspects is mirrors the direction corporate education reformers are trying (and succeeding!) in taking teacher evaluations

Eichenwald’s conversations reveal that a management system known as “stack ranking”—a program that forces every unit to declare a certain percentage of employees as top performers, good performers, average, and poor—effectively crippled Microsoft’s ability to innovate. “Every current and former Microsoft employee I interviewed—every one—cited stack ranking as the most destructive process inside of Microsoft, something that drove out untold numbers of employees,” Eichenwald writes. “If you were on a team of 10 people, you walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” says a former software developer. “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.”

Teachers will also be under similar pressure to compete against peers, rather than trust their natural instincts and best practices to collaborate.

Teach for America ‘research’ questioned

Recently I exchanged emails with a Teach for America employee in my city. On my last exchange, I tried to press her to answer at least one of my questions.

"Given the choice, would you see a doctor with 5 weeks of training or a certified doctor? A lawyer? An actuary?"

Answering with a ‘yes’ would be absurd. Answering with a ‘no’ would indicate a blatant disrespect for teachers.

Unfortunately this disrespect is exactly what we have going on in our country at this time: a blame-the-teacher mentality that ignores real world issues and concerns.

The TFA employee directed me to the organization's "research" page where TFA claims this: "A large and growing body of independent research shows that Teach For America corps members make as much of an impact on student achievement as veteran teachers."

This claim, based on the "studies" supplied by TFA, is misleading at best and demonstrably false at worst. I read all of the 12 "studies" available on TFA's website, and here is what I found.

[readon2 url="http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/teach-for-america-research-questioned/2011/12/12/gIQANb40rO_blog.html?wprss=answer-sheet"]Continue reading...[/readon2]

A teacher schools the Dispatch

When we read this article in the Dispatch by senior editor Joe Hallet, we were taken aback a little by how fawning it was, and how it seemd to suffer from quite a lot of selective amnesia. One Worthington school teacher thought so too, and forwarded to us his email to Mr. Hallet.


I read your column on Sunday and came across this line:

(Kasich) used Senate Bill 5 to take on public-employee unions, whose pay and benefit packages were growing unsustainable for taxpayers, in part because their local government and school officials had forgotten how to say no.

I don't think this is a fair characterization at all. The front page article ("Public, private compensation in the same ballpark.") in the Dispatch on Sunday demonstrated that public employee salaries and benefits are on par with those in the private sector. By your logic, combined with the article on pg 1 Sunday, you could say that private sector salaries have also grown unsustainable since private employees have a slightly richer salary and benefit package than public employees.

No discussion of the impact of public employee salaries on budgets is complete without pointing out that, since 2005, the income tax was cut 21%, the estate tax was eliminated, and the locally collected tangible personal property (TPP) tax was replaced with the state collected commercial activities tax (CAT). The income tax cut resulted in a sustained decrease at the state level in tax revenue which was evident even prior to the recession even with the addition of new CAT revenues. In 2005 total state revenue was $56.5 billion - by 2011 that had fallen to an estimated $50.5 billion which is $43.5 billion in 2005 dollars!

On the local level, governments and school districts were literally robbed of tax revenue by the state legislature's elimination of the TPP and estate tax. All of this has dealt a crushing blow to the ability of local governments and school districts to sustain services by starving them of local revenue as well as state aid.

These tax changes were heralded in 2005 as essential to economic growth in Ohio with the promise that the reforms would result in job growth in our state. I think the record on this score shows that tax reform in Ohio has not achieved the promised results and has instead put incredible stress on the state and local governments' ability to provide vital and expected services.

It is disingenuous to say that public salaries and benefits are unsustainable while ignoring the impact tax reform has had on Ohio's ability to fund its government. Furthermore, the front page of the Dispatch on the same day as your column refutes the notion that public salaries and benefits are out of line or unsustainable.

Mark Hill, Worthington school teacher
Columbus OH

We previousy wrote about this issue in an article titled "GUTTING EDUCATION FOR A CUP OF CHEAP COFFEE"

Public Employees saved $1billion for tax payers

A new report has looked at collective bargaining compromises in Ohio and found that public employees have saved their employers and taxpayers a substantial amount of money (over $1 billion).

Among the findings:

  • Public union workers have saved taxpayers $1,059,881,500 billion through collective bargaining concessions since 2008.
  • Teachers and support staff accepted wage freezes in more than 90 percent of collective bargaining agreements this year – concessions not tallied in this report because they are not yet available.
  • Last year, at least 65 percent of public employee contracts included at least 1 year of wage freezes, some furlough days, reduced compensation, rollovers or economic re-openers.
  • Some of the lowest-paid public employees – non-teaching personnel such as custodians – have gone up to eight years without a pay increase in exchange for stable health care costs.
  • A Warren police officer blames cuts in safety forces for the injuries he sustained while rescuing people from a burning building in which one person died.
  • More than two-thirds of all teachers’ contracts increased employee insurance premium contributions or significantly changed their health plans, with the savings often used to improve educational opportunities for students.
  • More than 93 percent of public workers already pay for their own pension contribution, with no pick-up from their employers.
  • On average, county and state employees pay more than 15 percent for their health care plans.

Public Employees Shared Sacrifice Report

Guest Post: A Comprehensive Union

A guest post by Robert Barkley, Jr., Retired Executive Director, Ohio Education Association, Author: Quality in Education: A Primer for Collaborative Visionary Educational Leaders and Leadership In Education: A Handbook for School Superintendents and Teacher Union Presidents, Worthington, Ohio – rbarkle@columbus.rr.com

As employee organizations, whether one prefers the term association or union, come under severe attack from many angles, it is time once again to reflect upon exactly what is our duty. Or, to put it in terms I discovered as I worked for several years with a coalition of management and labor, what would it mean to be a “comprehensive union.”

My work in that period of studying such collaboration led me to understand the parallel need for transforming our local associations/unions in tandem with the changes we seek in the school districts with which, and in which, we work.

Unions, like all organizations, go through life cycles. We are at a time in education where the pure trade unionist approach to representing education employees is at least understandable to most, and still appealing to many. Elsewhere this acceptance of even a traditional role for unions is fragile at best. There is a great deal of antipathy toward a union in any form, even among the union's own membership.

Against a backdrop of serious threats to public education as an institution, unions must walk a difficult line between the traditional expectations of many veteran school employees about what their union should be, internal union critics, and the changing expectations represented by many of those entering teaching today. In this climate, those who purport to represent school employees find themselves needing a more comprehensive perspective about what they offer.

Typically employee organizations seek, or should seek, to attend to three aspects of our members work: 1) the labor they engage in, 2) the contribution that labor makes to the community, and 3) the performance level attributed to those efforts.

Consistent with those three aspects a truly comprehensive union must engage in four distinct but interdependent functions. First, the traditional union role has not, probably should not, and cannot go away. At this point in its evolution, the comprehensive union needs to maintain its historic role. But what is that role? From conversations with many members, it seems to boil down to protecting members from the vicissitudes of the systems in which they work. More specifically it is protection from the consequences of out-dated, inadequate, and/or dysfunctional systems.

The second historical and essential role for our organizations is to assure that our members are appropriately rewarded for their labor, contributions, and performance. [Yes, there’s that word performance mixed in with setting compensation. It’s real and must be addressed both intelligently and fairly.]

This leads to the third role for a comprehensive union -- accepting responsibility, in collaboration with others, for the design and continuous improvement of the systems in which our members work. It's not a matter of giving up one for the other. It's a matter of accepting simultaneously the responsibility for protection, system redesign, and accountability.

For decades, designing the systems in which people work has been thought of as the purview of management. In fact, based upon the wording of many "management rights" clauses in bargained contracts, designing the systems and maintaining the quality of work has been essentially off-limits to unions. This was naïve from the beginning and certainly is today.

If one asks members or potential members if they would join for protection, many say yes. Ask them if they would join and support efforts to improve the system in ways that would reduce the need for protection, the response is usually some mix of three replies. One, they don't believe the need for protection would ever go away completely. Two, they never thought of the union as doing that sort of thing. And three, they like the idea, but they're worried that doing the second would compromise doing the first.

Taking on these dual challenges is further than many are ready to go. Yet there appears to be an even more attractive prospect for a transformation to comprehensive unionism. Once fundamental survival needs are met, the greatest service anyone can give workers is the fourth aspect of a comprehensive employee organization: an opportunity for its members to realize joy and satisfaction in their daily work.

I opened by suggesting that all organizations have life cycles. Moving from one established life cycle to the next is never easy nor is the road clear. We are often sustaining one cycle while designing the next. We find ourselves in that dilemma today -- torn between the continuing need for protection and the growing responsibility for improving the system. I have found this concept of the comprehensive union useful in conducting the reflection and dialogue necessary to grow and learn.

The Buckeye Institutes doesn't understand simple things

The Buckeye Institute just released a tool to compare salaries. The only trouble with this hackish tool is they don't understand how anyone is paid apparently.

In their effort to make public sector workers appear over compensated, they add vacation and sick pay to salaries, without understanding sick and vacation pay is paid instead of salary, and therefore can't be added to create a juicy big total salary they can get all indignant about.

What kind of a "think tank" doesn't understand the basic principles of employee compensation?