Fordham losses its bearings

The Fordham Foundation, despite their pro corporate education agenda can often be depended upon to at least present their case in a fair and honest manner. That is until their animosity towards education unions is put on display, as was the case with their support of SB5. But, few posts on their website have lost their bearings quite as much as a post titled "Unionized teacher salaries", by Aaron Churchill.

In this piece, the author seeks to compare the salaries of union teachers in 2 Springfield City elementary schools to a charter school in the same city. Cherry picking 3 schools from Ohio's thousands is a suspect endeavor to begin with, but even with that, the results go awry quite quickly.

First let's take a look at the 3 schools presented to us

Type Charter District District
Name Springfield Academy of Excellence Fulton Elem. Perrin Woods Elem.
% White 16.5 40.8 26
% Black 61 43.3 53.1
% Hispanic 10.9 8.2 2.7
Rating Academic Watch Academic Watch Academic Watch
PI 77.9 79.5 76.8
I’ve selected these schools because of their similar demographics and academic performance (table 1).

Pretty similar: SAE, Fulton, and Perrin Woods all have a majority Black and Hispanic students in their school. (These represent 3 of the 4 elementary schools in Springfield that have a majority minority population.) In addition, table 1 indicates that they had nearly indistinguishable academic results for the 2011-12 school year. All received an “Academic Watch” rating from the state and they all had performance index scores—a weighted proficiency rate—between 77 and 80 (the state goal is 100).

So, that's the rationale for selecting these schools. We're perplexed why racial demographics were the primary matching criteria chosen, especially when they aren't even that similar at all. We're certain it is not racism, as what difference does the racial makeup of the schools matter? So is the author using racial demographics as a proxy for poverty in this analysis?

If one were to look directly at the poverty levels of these 3 schools (which is in the ODE spreadsheet just one more column to the right!), these cherry picked schools suddenly don't seem similar at all. Let's add that data point in.

Type Charter District District
Name Springfield Academy of Excellence Fulton Elem. Perrin Woods Elem.
% White 16.5 40.8 26
% Black 61 43.3 53.1
% Hispanic 10.9 8.2 2.7
Rating Academic Watch Academic Watch Academic Watch
PI 77.9 79.5 76.8
Percent Economically Disadvantaged 85.1 95.4 91.7

As you can see, the traditional schools have up to 10% more poverty than the charter school they are being compared to. Nothing highlights the all too common situation of charter school selection leading to traditional schools being left with more disadvantaged students than this. But the dissimilarities don't end there. Let's add another important indicator into the mix that the author omitted - students with disabilities

Type Charter District District
Name Springfield Academy of Excellence Fulton Elem. Perrin Woods Elem.
% White 16.5 40.8 26
% Black 61 43.3 53.1
% Hispanic 10.9 8.2 2.7
Rating Academic Watch Academic Watch Academic Watch
PI 77.9 79.5 76.8
Percent Economically Disadvantaged 85.1 95.4 91.7
Percent Student with Disabilities 7.1 20.6 17.5

Clearly then, the traditional schools have far larger populations of students with disabilities. Why would anyone be surprised that teachers in schools with higher levels of poverty, and disabilities be more seriously challenged?

The problems with the Fordham piece goes even deeper, and becomes more troubling than simply looking at very bad analysis. Fordham must of intentionally cherry picked schools to use for their performance/salary comparison. Fulton and Perrin Woods are not the only elementary schools in Springfield City.

Why did they not use Lagonda Elementary School, for example, in their analysis? When we add that schools data in, the answer becomes obvious

Type Charter District District District
Name Springfield Academy of Excellence Fulton Elem. Perrin Woods Elem. Lagonda Elem.
% White 16.5 40.8 26 67.3
% Black 61 43.3 53.1 14.9
% Hispanic 10.9 8.2 2.7 4.7
Rating Academic Watch Academic Watch Academic Watch Excellent
PI 77.9 79.5 76.8 90.4
Percent Economically Disadvantaged 85.1 95.4 91.7 87.4
Percent Student with Disabilities 7.1 20.6 17.5 11.4

A school with a similar poverty and disability levels as the charter school selected, but it is obvious why no attention was drawn to Lagona Elementary school - that school is rated excellent. It's hard to argue that teachers are somehow overpaid when your comparison falls down on the criteria of quality and true meaningful demographics.

Before we move away from school demographics, we do want to chastise the author for this nasty, and incorrect comment

This wage premium is nice for unionized teachers, but not so nice for the district they work in—or for the students they (purportedly) educate.

"Purportedly". If the piece he wrote had been dripping in less bile and contempt for unionized educators, he might have noticed that both these traditional schools he erroneously choose to use for his analysis, met their value add - that is - the teachers in these schools didn't "purportedly" educate their students, they simply did.

Mr Churchill owes an apology to these hard working teachers for suggesting they are not educating their students adequately.

But let's address the salary comparisons directly.

The author points out that the traditional school teachers in these 2 elementary schools earn more than their charter school counterparts (which even he characterizes as "pitifully low"). This is true, it's one of the reasons why corporate education reformers want to attack unionized teaching forces, they want to maximize their own profits by underpaying teachers for their work. If quality were a genuine concern surely the argument would be to increase teacher pay in disadvantaged schools in order to attract high quality educators. You will never see a corporate education reformer make this argument.

That aside, Mr Churchill once again fails to compare apples to apples. While teachers in all 3 schools he selected have bachelors degrees, only 10.2% of teachers in the charter school have a masters, whereas 33.3% in Fulton and 42.3% in Perrin Woods have advance masters degrees. Is Mr. Churchill arguing that employees with more advanced educations should not receive higher pay? This flies in the face of all economic theory.

Indeed, Mr. Churchill goes even further

Second, I’m struck by the considerably higher salaries of Fulton and Perrin Woods’ teachers relative the local median income. 22 out of 24 of Perrin Woods’ teachers make more than 1.5 times the local median; and 13 out of 23 of Fulton’s teachers make more than 1.5 times the local median.

You know who else is paid more than their community median - Fordham employees who make over $90,000 a year for part time work, but that aside, are we being told that the median education in the Springfield community is a masters degree? Or is Mr Churchill arguing that everyone should be paid the same in a community regardless of education, experience and the job they are performing? It's a very strange economic argument being made.

We should also consider, as Mr. Churchill tries to pit the Springfield city community against its teachers, that in just 2011, voters of the city overwhelmingly supported their school levy with 67.1% of the vote. That doesn't sound like a community dissatisfied with their teachers or their pay. Quite the contrary.

But finally, what this Fordham piece does demonstrate, beyond the obvious ideological agenda, is a total lack of understanding of how salaries are negotiated. They are not negotiated at the school level, between teachers and the principal, instead they are negotiated at the district level with the democratically elected board. So one should look at the district performance as a whole to make serious judgments as to the quality of education being delivered by Springfield City Schools and its teachers.

Springfield City Schools, despite its many demographic challenges is rated Effective.

Where the polls stand - the last look

Here's our last look at the state of the polls before we know the result tomorrow.

After months of campaigning, millions spent on advertising and mail, the campaign has settled in to where it always looked destined to, a narrow lead for the president, creating an even narrower path for Mr Romney to achieve 270 electoral college votes.

The most conservative of the polling analyst, Real Clear Politics, has the race for electoral college votes almost neck-and-neck

One of the states they have in the toss-up column naturally being Ohio. However, their state-by-state look at the polling shows President Obama with a lead averaging 2.9%, one of his largest in some time, right at the moment he would want to be leading.

Meanwhile, 538, the NYT poll analyst has the President winning the electoral college vote 307.2 - 230.8, a margin that has been increasing since the first debate

583 has the probably of President Obama winning Ohio at 86.8%.

If you just want to settle in an watch the results, BuzzFeed has created a "Viewer's Guide To Who Won The Presidential Election"

This (probably)* doesn't have to be all that complicated. Obama has several paths to victory. Romney has fewer. And these are the main ones, organized by the time (EST) that polls close.
*The New York Times counts 512 possible outcomes — but the paths above are the likely ones.

As you can see, Romney has to run the table of swing states in order to prevail.

Of course, all of this only matters if you vote. Don't forget to check our our voters checklist of what you might need, and what your voting rights are in Ohio.

The Crisis in American Education Is a Myth

By Randy Turner, English teacher

One of the most frustrating things teachers have to deal with every day is this myth that our profession is filled with lazy, undermotivated educators who arrive just in time for the first bell and leave immediately at the end of the school day.

We watch as, year after year, politicians devise radical plans that totally revamp our "failed" system. Many times these plans involve taking public money and putting it into private schools, relying more and more on standardized tests, and tearing down the teachers who are the key to the success that public education has always been and hopefully, after the fallout of this well-organized attack, will continue to be.

So across America, including my home state of Missouri, teachers teach to the test, hope and pray that the legislative attacks on our profession can be held off for yet another year, and watch as our livelihood is devalued and our reputations are savaged by elected officials whose pockets are lined with campaign contributions from the billionaires who don't want to pay a cent to help anyone who is not in their tax bracket.

And we do all of this hoping and praying as the headlines are filled with news of a crisis that does not exist.

We live in an era where No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have been allowed to define public schools as failures, when, in fact, they still offer the best chance for children who were not born with silver spoons in their mouths to climb the ladder to success.

For too long we have allowed politicians to ignore dealing with the real problems of poverty and permitted them to use education as a convenient scapegoat for their negligence.

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