The portfolio model of school district management—it sounds technocratic, even a little bit weedy and yet it’s arguably one of the hottest button topics in our great education debate today. You may have heard the ‘p’ word mentioned in the context of recent teachers strikes in LA and Denver, and if you haven’t, well, you’ll likely be hearing it soon. That’s because there’s big money lining up to bring the portfolio model to a school district near you. A new organization backed by two billionaires—that would be Reed Hastings of Netflix fame and hedge funder John Arnold—will be pushing aggressively and expensively to expand the portfolio model across the country. But what is it exactly? In the latest episode of Have You Heard, Jennifer and Jack are joined by Katrina Bulkley, author of Between Public and Private: Politics, Governance and the New Portfolio Models for Urban Education Reform. Bulkley walks us through the central tenets of portfolio-ism and also sheds some lights on why districts that have embraced the portfolio push seem to be, well, on fire.
What will the Supreme Court’s recent Janus ruling mean for teachers unions? Jon Shelton, author of the recent (and excellent) book Teacher Strike! Public Education and the Making of a New American Political Order joins me to discuss. If you’ve been trying to figure out how this spring’s teacher walkouts, the surge of grassroots energy among progressive Democrats, and a Supreme Court decision that takes aim at powerful unions in blue states have to do with each other – well, this is the episode for you!
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In episode #31 of Have You Heard, we meet Mihir Garud, who left a job as a stockbroker to teach personal finance at a Chicago charter school. He’s also the treasurer of a union that now represents 25% of charter school teachers in the city. Garud, who sees unions as the “last brake” on a system of free market capitalism run amok, turns out to have a lot in common with the teachers in Chicago who organized the country’s first just-for-teachers union back in 1897.
I talk to Tom Frank, author of Listen, Liberal, about the Democrats’ break up with the working class and why education can’t save us…
Tom Frank: The Democrats are now a party of the professional class: affluent, white-collar professionals. They themselves say this all the time; they talk about the professional class as being their constituency. But we don’t often try to put the pieces together and try to figure out, well what does it mean to be a party of the professional class vs. the working class? One thing it means is that inequality is seen as the natural order of things. In fact, professionals believe in inequality. They think of inequality as totally fair and the way things should be, and they think that because they themselves are the winners in the great inequality sweepstakes. Continue reading →
Iowa just became the latest state to limit collective bargaining rights for teachers. In other states, that’s meant big salary cuts for teachers…
Jennifer Berkshire: It’s a well-known true fact that teachers unions make it much harder to get rid of bad teachers. But you conducted a study that purports to find the opposite. In fact, you titled your study The Myth of Unions’ Overprotection of Bad Teachers. Tell us about what you found.
Eunice Han: What I found is that the facts are the opposite of what people think: that highly unionized districts actually fire more bad teachers.
Berkshire: That sound you just heard was of jaws collectively dropping. While we give readers a chance to re-combombulate themselves (and arm themselves anew with anecdotes), can you walk us through your argument? And feel free to use a formula.
Han: It’s pretty simple, really. By demanding higher salaries for teachers, unions give school districts a strong incentive to dismiss ineffective teachers before they get tenure. Highly unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers because it costs more to keep them. Using three different kinds of survey data from the National Center for Education Statistics, I confirmed that unionized districts dismiss more low-quality teachers than those with weak unions or no unions. Unionized districts also retain more high-quality teachers relative to district with weak unionism. No matter how and when I measured unionism I found that unions lowered teacher attrition. This is important because many studies have found that higher quality teachers have a greater chance of leaving the profession. Since unionized districts dismiss more bad teachers while keeping more good teachers, we should expect to observe higher teacher quality in highly unionized districts than less unionized districts – and this is exactly what I found. Highly unionized districts have more qualified teachers compared to districts with weak unionism. Continue reading →