Friday, December 31, 2010

How much is a good teacher worth?

I was forwarded this article from the Huffington Post on the value of a good teacher.   I've been doing alot of thinking about this lately.   What is the value?    And does it do us any good to think of teachers in these market based terms?

How much is a good teacher worth? Some would say they're priceless, but recent findings in the National Bureau of Economic Research's The Economic Value of Higher Teacher Quality, is a bit more exact. The report, written by Eric A. Hanushek, suggests that quality teachers with 20 students are worth $400,000 more in the future earnings of their students than an average teacher, annually.
Should teachers think of their value in this way?   Should the public?  It's nice to think I might impart a little value on my students' lives.   However, I've never really considered it to be a pecuniary one.

Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist has spent some time considering these questions in one of his books, Predictably Irrational.   In chapter four on social norms, he considers the problem when social norms and market norms cross paths.   It's  a fascinating read that has me thinking about what I do at work and why I do it.   A summary of the chapter is below:

I know that there has been a lot of work put in to change the way society thinks of teachers.  Mostly it's been a market based approach.   Teachers after all, have long been undervalued in the market.   So to attack this inequity it makes sense to demand more compensation.   I appreciate that this path has lead to more pay for teachers.   I wouldn't be one if that were not the case.  However, I think there may also be some negative consequences of this framing.   Teachers are not quite revered in American society.   Was this different 30 years ago?   100 years ago?   I don't know.    Would the public think differently about teachers if they weren't constantly asked to think about teachers' salaries?   What about teachers?  I do not think we want teachers thinking about their hourly or minutely contributions in terms of it's market value.   This leads teachers to come late and leave early.  But I think these are important questions to consider when thinking about evaluation systems that will create a better work place environment.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Testing and Evaluation

An interesting and balanced article in the New York Times today about  the practice of using student test data to rank teacher quality.   It's a practice that I believe has potential in the field of education, but also serious limitations.   My biggest concern, is that it is now used simply as a proxy for honest and robust evaluation, most likley because it is easy to use.  I can hear it now, "I don't want to let you go, but I can't ignore the data."  True feedback about effective teaching will not come on a printout derived from an algorithm.  Make no mistake, I believe teachers should be accountable, and that there needs to be serious coversations about the role of seniority and tenure within the field of education.   We need to understand what makes a quality teacher, and how quality teachers are different from less effective teachers. Testing may be a part of how we come to that understanding.   But it should not be a replacement.  To a large extent, I feel the current emphasis on testing is the result of resistance by teacher unions to offer up more cost effective and robust solutions that are available.   Create that system, and the need for testing and the negative externalities associated with testing diminish if not disappear.

Here's a bit from the Times' article:

“I feel as though I don’t exist,” she said last Monday, looking up from playing a vocabulary game with her students.

Down the hall, Deirdre Corcoran, a fifth-grade teacher, received a ranking for a year when she was out on child-care leave. In three other classrooms at this highly ranked school, fourth-grade teachers were ranked among the worst in the city at teaching math, even though their students’ average score on the state math exam was close to four, the highest score.

“If I thought they gave accurate information, I would take them more seriously,” the principal of P.S. 321, Elizabeth Phillips, said about the rankings. “But some of my best teachers have the absolute worst scores,” she said, adding that she had based her assessment of those teachers on “classroom observations, talking to the children and the number of parents begging me to put their kids in their classes.”

More thoughtful conversation about VAM over at Stories from School.   A conversation that makes me that much more confident that if teacher-leaders made decisions about school reform, we'd be much better off than we are now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Some common sense

The reform movement has focused so far on  student testing as a way to evaluate the quality of teaching.  Through the use of value-added methodology, teachers can be evaluated based on the "additional learning" they contribute to a students overall progress.   It controls for out of school factors such as family income and race in order to try and isolate the teacher effect on student learning.   While still imperfect, the process is able to "rank" teachers' effectiveness, albeit with a rather broad range of uncertainty.

This testing based approach has so far been received with a rather wide degree of skepeticism from many teachers and their unions who represent them.   And increased reliance on testing is indeed laced with problems.   States often don't have the quality of resources to make high quality tests.    Testing takes time- often at the expense of instruction.    And high-stakes testing also has the effect of narrowing the focus of instruction.

However, as I read this article from the value-added proponent LA Times, it struck me that if teachers and their unions were able to come up with their own system for determing teacher quality- this testing fetish would likely go just as fast as it came.   The fact of the matter, is that the public, as well as many teachers, are ready to consider the quality of teaching that is going on inside of school buildings.   Too many parents have had bad experiences with ineffective teachers.   Too many teachers know that not every teacher works as hard as the next.   And too many administrators know what teachers and parents know but are unable, or unwilling, to do anything about it.   Testing takes these stakeholders out of the equation.   Testing provides an "objective" approach for evaluatiing teachers.

If teachers want to avoid the testing wave, they must embrace their own systems of reform.   We must embrace evaluation systems that offer more than a dichotomous satisfactory/unsatisfactory rating system.   We must encourage and strive for excellence in the classroom- and reward those who are not only the highest quality, but who take on extra responsibilities.    We can no longer simply ignore teacher quality, unless that is, we want our quality to be determined by student performance on a test.   We do so at our own peril.

Quality teaching matters- much more so than new programs or initiatives.   So the question is, do we want to recognize this quality or have someone else, or something else, do this for us?  From the LA Times:

Since 2003, Markham has had dozens of the district's least effective instructors, as measured by the analysis of their students' progress on standardized tests. Seventy percent of the school's English and math teachers have ranked well below the Los Angeles Unified School District's average in effectiveness. Fewer than 10 Markham teachers have been in the district's top 20%, and most left the school within three years.

There are thousands of Markhams across the country, schools whose low test scores have triggered wave after wave of reform efforts over decades, mostly in vain.

"It's not a lack of new initiatives, it's too many initiatives, and no sense of what's working," said Robert Manwaring, a senior policy analyst at the Washington, D.C., think tank Education Sector who has studied turnaround efforts at Markham and other schools. "They don't use data to inform those decisions — they use a gut feeling or get marching orders from higher up."

 The LA Times, rightly or wrongly, can make claims about teacher quality in a way that teachers can't.   It is time for this to change.  It is time for teachers to decide what quality teaching is.   And when we do, not only will teachers be better off, but the public and the students we serve will be better off.   The choice is ours.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Where the Teacher Unions will go

Here's a little bit from Professor Gary Anderson of New York University that I found at the Huffington Post.   Where might the future of education and unions lie?   According to Anderson, with Peer Asssitance and Review (PAR):

So teachers unions must continue to defend teachers' wages, benefits, and pensions, but they will be vulnerable to attack if they allow themselves to be defined as roadblocks to innovation and protectors of bad teachers. Perhaps more ominous, many working class Americans who failed to protect their private sector unions are now turning on teachers, whom they view as overpaid and with fat pensions.

One approach that has begun to change the image of teachers unions is Peer-Assisted Review or PAR. It involves peer evaluation of teachers that addresses teacher induction and development as well as due process issues. The peer evaluator and teacher meet with a board made up of district administrators and union officials who ultimately decide on the outcome of the peer-evaluation. This system not only allows for a more collegial form of evaluation and support, but also involves both the district and the union in decisions about teacher quality. This system has also been shown to be more effective at identifying incompetent teachers and either making them better or moving them out of the system. More in depth information on PAR can be found in Jennifer Goldstein's book, Peer Review and Teacher Leadership: Linking Professionalism and Accountability, and on the Project on the Next Generation of Teachers.
PAR may be the future, but the steps taken so far in Montgomery County fall woefully short of an effective system.   The foundation is in place, but we have not taken the next steps to strengthen it.   The best way to stregthen it would be for Montgomery County co cut administrators out of the evaluative process altogether.   They are unable to offer supports that teachers need.   They are unable "to show" teachers how to teach.      They are unable to use the PAR process as it was intended, because they find it too tedius to place teachers in the system.   The system needs to be implemented by teachers from beginning to end.  It needs to be  more complete and continuous.  Trust me when I say this: if teachers were in charge, the evaluation process would be far more effective than it is now.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Jerry Weast on Evaluation

Superintendent of Schools Jerry Weast on evaluations in Montgomery County (with thanks for the Parent's Coalition for bringing it to my attention):

Attitude reflects leadership

National Board Certified teacher, David Cohen, recently left the following comment on my blog.   David is part of a group of accomplished teachers who write a policy blog out in California.   We have been having a conversation about, well, conversation.    We both agree that teacher evaluation systems around the U.S. need some revamping.   The question that we have been exploring, I suppose, is how we communicate and accomplish that goal.  Here is my response to his original comments:

A part of our disagreement, I believe, is that like many of us, I write a local blog in the context of a more national discussion on reform.   Montgomery County, where I teach, has traditionally been considered a rather progressive union (loaded phrase). Our professional growth system is based on the 5 National Board Standards plus a 6th (professionalism). We have a peer evaluation system in place for novice and tenured teachers who receive an unsatisfactory evaluation. However, what this means in theory and practice are often two different things.  In theory, principals refer teachers to the peer evaluation system when the need arises.  In practice, few tenured teachers are given an opportunity to take advantage of the system.   It is viewed as a punishment- and a way of removing teachers- not helping them develop.  Meanwhile, we still continue to utilize a seniority system that does not effectively encourage or reward professional growth.  I feel the pulls of mediocredom every day.  

Now, I can go into my union and suggest subtle changes to the system but unless we can come to agreement that there is a problematic culture in place we're not going to be able to attack the serious issues that are preventing us from moving forward. I've said this before to you, but when there is more incentive to coach football after school than to develop mastery lessons- there exists a problematic culture. That's not to say that after school activities are not an important part of being a teacher- I used to coach myself- and personal relationship building is a crucial part of teaching- however, when coaching is valued more than a quality lesson- something is amiss. How do we encourage teachers to meet regularly, to observe each other, and to think about taking their teaching to an uncomfortable place? It's funny, but the one thing that the Tennessee study on performance pay concluded- of all things- was that teachers in the study were more likely to collaborate:
The only other significant differences were in collaborative activities, with treatment teachers replying that they collaborated more on virtually every measured dimension. 
They wanted to see what was so "good" about teacher x.... even though they didn't really believe that the tests their students took accurately measured how effective a teacher they were.   Now, we can argue over whether "merit pay" is the way to go, but I think there is a more important point here.   When we value quality teaching, we are more likely to take efforts to become quality.  If we have "master" teachers who are paid more, or who are even just recognized as a master without the extra pay- people will be more inclined to look at that teacher and figure out how to become one. You don't learn how to become a teacher when an interloper comes into your class and tells you how you could do it better. You become a better teacher when you reflect about your practice. I think there is no better way to do that than to watch high quality instruction. Unfortunately, I don't know of many places where instructional leaders are in a classroom, let alone in a classroom with an open door policy.

Now- perhaps this doesn't excuse the way I beat the drum on issues of seniority. I've been accused of attacking veteran teachers.   I've been accused of being pompous.  And I see how some may interpret my ideas in this way.   But when you go to a union and ask for change you best not go with a purple feather duster in your hand (mine at home is purple).

That said- I'm often offended by the way my union defends our current professional growth system as a "model system"  to be destroyed by RTTP reforms. The implication is that there is no way to improve our system- which I passionately resent.    We defend, defend, and defend.   If we reflected half as much as we defended we'd be much better off.   Many of the wonderful teachers in my and other buildings agree that seniority is a problem.   However they are not apt to engage in a fight to change.   Do these teachers have a voice?   Or does it take the Rhees and Kleins and Duncans of the world to make that point for us?

So I suppose I'll put away my drum when I feel like we're headed in the right direction.  I admit that may be to my own detriment.   But I will certainly consider my messaging- because I believe in due process- and I believe in professional growth- and I believe in teachers.  And perhaps my drum is beating on the wrong points.

But let me just say this- and perhaps this is my downfall- most of my postings have been reactionary in nature: and attitude reflects leadership.  The lesson might be that I stop reading about my leaders and do more talking to them.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What are we fighting about?

On April 15, 2010, a teacher whom I taught with in my days at Neelsville Middle School was murdered.   I didn't know Brian Betts very well.   But  Brian was one of those people.   If you were around him, you were impacted by him.

Eight or nine years ago, Brian forward me an editorial that appeared in the Gazzette regarding the "extreme" salaries paid to teachers in Montgomery County Public Schools.   Some lawyer from such and such who wrote a semi-regular column.      He went on to explain that teachers, when you added in their benefits, made some extraordinary amount of money, all at tax payer expense.  I was new to the system then, and had a strong emotional reaction to his argument.   I wrote a response based on the premise that I never would have been in education had it not been for the ability to make a livelihood - without the ability to raise a family.   At the time, MCPS was probably the only place in Maryland where teachers were compensated with relative fairness.    Simply put,  compensation was why I chose to teach.   It is why I ended up in Montgomery County.

I did not send my reply to the editors, but to Brian.    He said two words in a return email.   "Send it."

I didn't.

On April 16th I started this blog.   And I don't know much, but I do know this:  Our schools- MCPS, Maryland, the nation- they can do better.   I have no patience for grandstanding.    I have no patience for data manipulation used to distort truths or to reach individual ends.    Our schools are not bad.   Our teachers are not the enemies.  But if you're not improving, you're doing something else.  

So I ask, what are we doing to make our system better?   What are we doing to make teachers better?   Are we putting in place costly programs?   Or are we investing in the one in school factor proven to matter most: a quality teacher in every classroom.

It's time to make our schools better.   It's time to identify problems, and create solutions.   But we can't do that if we won't engage in an honest analysis of the problems.   Want to stop the emphasis on standardized testing?   Determine the problem- then proffer solutions.

Of course, I'm not sure that we all acknowledge the existence of a problem.    Obviously, the "reform" movement does.   This group of expert teachers from the Center for Teaching Quality does.   Many teachers I talk with do.  Could it be that ALL these people are simply anti-teacher? 

There's a need to push forward to improve our schools.   There is great work being done.  I see it everyday.   But there is need to think about how we can do it better.   I'm not talking about taking over schools, or firing people, or making sure everyone has a voucher.   I'm talking about ways to come together and make things better.

Teachers must do more than ask for more money and more benefits.  We must do more than claim we are under-appreciated (even if there is a degree of truth in these claims).   Instead, we must continuously monitor our own growth and consider how we can improve that system.   When we do that- the money and benefits will follow.    But first we must first build concensus on the problems.  Only then can we determine how to fix those problems.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A reply

My wife recently accused me of having the emotional IQ of an ant.  She is so generous.  David Cohen of InterACT, a group blog from Accomplished California Teachers, left this comment worthy of its own post.   He has more tact than my wife.   My response coming soon.

Hi Mike, On the broad strokes I agree with you. We need a change in those personnel practices in schools. However, my approach might be different. I'd suggest that the quest for a system that helps us fire bad teachers is the wrong approach. Instead, I'd ask what changes in evaluation practices will improve teaching and learning across the board. My answers are contained in the ACT report on teacher evaluation, which can be found at our website. (Not to suggest that I am the originator of those ideas, but rather that my opinions are reflected in the work that a large team of teachers put into that report). We want an evaluation system that is flexible, ongoing, and growth-oriented, one that helps each teacher identify and address aspects of their practice that need to improve. For schools currently evaluating most of their teachers on the "drive-by" model - an annual observation by an administrator who may or may not know your content area - this would represent an improvement that I submit would improve teaching and learning across the board. So you need to sell that step on its own merits. If you present the new system as the means of finding bad teachers, you inhibit the use of evaluation as an honest tool for improvement for all, because you encourage teachers to cover up or minimize any weakness. Okay - once you have a better evaluation system, then you can open negotiations on a number of matters of hiring and firing. Again, I wouldn't bill it as the new way to fire bad teachers, but rather, open up a spectrum. The teachers who excel in these evaluations and demonstrate other professional accomplishments should be in line for different types of jobs as "master teachers" (coaches, mentors, evaluators, teacher-administrator hybrid positions, curriculum development, training, etc.). Instead of "performance pay" that rests on test results, you'd have a chance to pay more for teachers who have a demonstrable ability to add more genuine educational "value" to the work of their schools or districts. Then, as a last step in the discussion, you're in a reasonable position to say that if we have a system that can do all of this, it should be fair game to negotiate the use of poor evaluation results for personnel decisions. I won't speak for John Norton individually, but as a member of Teacher Leaders Network, I feel comfortable stating as generality that many of us would agree with your long term goals, so I hope no one reads your blog as having posited us as your foils in this debate. I just don't think I'd open the conversation with "let's get rid of seniority" because a fair alternative must be in place. If the alternative is using state test scores in any way, no thank you. I welcome scrutiny of my teaching effectiveness by other means; they must address a more complete spectrum of my teaching, and do so in a way that effectively identifies my unique contributions to student learning. State tests earn an F on both of those criteria.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Digging holes

Funny analogy here, on Valerie Strauss' blog by guest writer Kevin Weiner from the University of Colorado at Boulder,  about the standardized testing movement.   I'd add this to the anology:

If you're standing next to someone digging a hole, do you just yell at them to stop digging until you can no longer get out?   Or do you take a step to the side?   I don't think the teaching profession need be burried by the testing movement.  

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Teaching and the moral authority

I've had several discussions with teachers lately about their beliefs on seniority.  And I would just like to say this: there are many, many teachers who do not think seniority is an effective way to compensate what teachers do.   However, many of these same teachers think its not worth the time or battle to change it.   They are busy enough as it is (with good reason).   Many think the current system is broken, but have a natural fear about the unknown.   Some fear the only other option is a test based system that turns the profession into a factory rather than a place where teachers can exercise autonomy and professional discretion to create mastery level lessons that engage all students.   This is, after all, the very serious danger of relying too heavily on student tests to measure teacher effectiveness. 

Our fear and complacency, however, has and continues to have too many unintended consequences.   Not the least among these is that "reformers" have now taken control of the decision making process.   I read continuous admonitions, such as a recent one by blogger and expert teacher David Cohen, regarding our part in the reform movement:

The millions of us who actually do the teaching and provide the education apparently do not need to be won over.  Our buy-in does not matter in debates about the educational policy and leadership.
When we take no active part, it's no surprise that as a professional community we are not enamored with the new evaluation systems that are passed on to us.   In many parts of the country, this has meant student achievement data in the form of value-added modeling becoming as much as 50% of teacher evaluations.   Some of these new systems have had more teacher support than others.

This post, by John Norton, and published in Teacher Magazine, details the many experienced teachers who now seem "tired" with the profession.   While I don't think the "tired" teacher was born with the advent of Value Added Modeling, it's important to realize that teachers and their unions, have the unique power to dampen the calls for outsider reform.  We have the power to reform on our own- to realize the changing time and tide- and to improve our profession and reclaim what we rightfully understand and know how to do better than any other segment in our society:  teach.  We can complain and become disgruntled, tired, veteran teachers, or we can choose to listen to valid criticisms with an eye toward fixing the problem from within.  This begins, in my opinion, with the acknowledgement that a once necessary and valuable seniority system created to ensure fairness for all employees, in particular women, has in the long-run resulted in unintended consequences for our profession. 

In defending a compensation system based solely on seniority, we relinquish the moral authority which teachers have long enjoyed when it comes to discussions about education and compensation.    Teachers have benefited from a long history of improved compensation in many, if not most regions across the country.   Some may credit unionization, but I do so only with an equal tribute to the moral authority that teachers have long held in the argument for more pay: teachers are important to a well functioning society so we must pay them accordingly.   The result, has been the backing from a willing and able public- willing to raise compensation for a public good any market based system will under-value.  While teacher compensation has improved, I do believe there is some way to go on this front.  But our public backing is only as good as the foundation upon which we build it.   And the long-run viablity of our cause has now taken on a second phase: teachers deserve more not because of the job we do, but because we are highly skilled, motivated professionals.  Not only do we do an important job, but we do it well. 

Increased pay and compensation can only continue if we are recognized as a profession with the ability to continue to change our nation.   This means holding ourselves to the same high expectations that we hold the students that we teach.   Therefore, we must demand a highly effective teacher in every classroom.  And the public, through their children, know all too well that this is currently not the case.   A dichotomous evaluation system where 98% of all teachers are rated satisfactory, and 2% are rated unsatisfactory, cannot improve our schools.  A system that pays the effective teacher the same as an ineffective teacher cannot improve our schools.   A system that will fire a strong and nontenured teacher before a tenured ineffective teacher cannot achieve those ends.  Unfortunately, this is exactly the system that has been created by seniority rules.   

Some teachers say our profession is under attack.   They say it's vital for hard-working, misunderstood teachers to defend ourselves from know-nothing reformers who have little, and sometimes no educational experience.  We are victims.   I say we need to fix what is broken, but to defend senioirty is to lose the very moral authority that has brought us to where we are today.    I prefer to see this as an opportunity.

Let's not waste it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More on Evaluation

Haven't had much time to read this report from the National Education Policy Center on teacher evaluations and what they might look like.   Looking forward to it.   But it seems based on the premise that evaluations should not be overly dependent on any one data point. 

And this article from Newsweek which takes a bit more firm stance on evaluation:

“If you’re rated unsatisfactory two years in a row, you’re gone,” says union chief Clements. “If your rating is ‘needs improvement,’ your salary freezes, and if your performance doesn’t improve in a few years, you’re gone too. We think most people want to do a good job, and being confronted with data that you are not doing a good job is hard to ignore. People either change or leave.”

I might feel better about a seniority system if I knew not every teacher was being passed along from year to year.

Monday, December 6, 2010

An argument for seniority

A thought provoking critque of the movement away from the seniority system in Teacher Magazine:

My district has had massive teacher layoffs the past two years, with resulting increased class sizes. Layoffs were not based on seniority, degrees or accomplishments, but solely on student test scores and teacher evaluations. Furthermore, the district is proceeding with a pay-for-performance plan, which will go into effect at the latest in 2014. It is not following any kind of best practices research in its structure. Pay would be dependent solely on teacher "effectiveness," which every indication suggests will be based primarily on test scores.

I know that all of this is causing our most experienced, most accomplished, most prepared teachers to rethink their plans for work versus retirement. I also know that absenteeism among teachers is on the rise. At my high-needs schools, most of our teachers are very young, and I am the only nationally certified teacher. We have already had seven teachers resign since school started in August.

I've never before questioned my commitment to teaching the way I am now, and I have never felt so discouraged about the profession in general or the future of my school district or the welfare of and opportunities for our students. I'm not really ready to stop working, but I'm starting to think I've lost heart for teaching. I don't know if I can get it back.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A defense of seniority?

Here is a commentary from Schools Matter that appears to be a defense of seniority.  It's funny, but the defense of seniority is often linked with a defense of experience.   As if the two were somehow the same concept.   Teachers improve with experience.   Research confirms a correlation.   This is therefore the best way to compensate teachers or to make hiring and firing decisions.  It's an akward argument to me.... like a person arguing that because IQ is correlated with better teaching, we are therefore simply going to measure IQ and compensate accordingly.   From the article:

 The Times mentions, in passing, that "seniority is largely unrelated to performance." The research on the impact of seniority that I have seen is based on the use of standardized test score improvements, otherwise known as value-added measures. Nevertheless, the results are interesting. In an interview (The New Advocate, "Teacher seniority under fire "September 12, 2010), researcher Michael Hansen said that improvement between year 3 and 25 was four percent, which he regarded as "trivial." But if valid, it means that more experienced teachers are slightly more effective. The only reason to ignore seniority as a criterion for retention in hard times is financial.

Pensions in Maryland - A request

Looking for some good information on the Maryland State Pension system.   If anyone can direct me to some data- that'd be helpful.

Seems to me there are some common sense solutions that could be put into place that would not substantially effect the standard of living of state employees when they retire.   While I'm not exactly sure how a "defined"contribution pension system turned into such a reprehensible idea, I'm sure we could make some adjustments to the defined benefits pension system to make it more viable in the long-run.   Personally, however, a penny in my own bank account is worth more than two in a state's bank account.   It appears this makes me a minority within my own union once again.

Edit: Found this- about Maryland state pension's underperformance relative to other states.   Funny it took 10 years for the state government to find out they were wasting money.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Progress needed

So here we have another example of the central flaw in our educational debate. Jonathan Alter of Newsweek sits down with Bill Gates to talk about education and the reform movement he has embraced. Alter writes this article entitled A Case of Senioritis. Clearly, Gates' beef is one of seniority, right?   Alter writes:

 After exhaustive study, the Gates Foundation and other experts have learned that the only in-school factor that fully correlates is quality teaching, which seniority hardly guarantees. It’s a moral issue. Who can defend a system where top teachers are laid off in a budget crunch for no other reason than that they’re young?

In most states, pay and promotion of teachers are connected 100 percent to seniority. This is contrary to everything the world’s second-richest man believes about business: “Is there any other part of the economy where someone says, ‘Hey, how long have you been mowing lawns? … I want to pay you more for that reason alone.’

It's a piece about creating change through the end of the seniority system.   It is a moral issue.   And it's why that if I had to take sides- I take sides with Gates.   Not that I fully embrace his ideas for education reform- but he does understand and attempt to solve a central problem.   The education profession is indifferent to quality.
Dianne Ravitch, who has made a second and very profitable career of  "defending"  educators from the so called attacks of Gates, responds directly to some of the rhetorical questions posed by Gates on Valerie Strauss' blog, The Answer Sheet.   Ravitch pokes some pretty serious holes in the seemingly logical solutions proffered by Gates and other reformers.   But how many times do you think Ravitch uses the word seniority in her response?

Not once.

Why not?  It seems to me it's a losing issue.   Ravitch thus focuses her attack on Gates' main solution, testing:
I don't hear any of the corporate reformers expressing concern about the way standardized testing narrows the curriculum, the way it rewards convergent thinking and punishes divergent thinking, the way it stamps out creativity and originality. I don't hear any of them worried that a generation will grow up ignorant of history and the workings of government. I don't hear any of them putting up $100 million to make sure that every child has the chance to learn to play a musical instrument. All I hear from them is a demand for higher test scores and a demand to tie teachers' evaluations to those test scores. That is not going to improve education."

Ravitch may be right about testing.   Testing students too many times, in too many subjects could have serious ramifications.   And value-added modeling in its current form, likely poses more questions than answers. I suppose that's why she spends so much time talking about testing rather than seniority rules; the battle over testing is, as Gates would say, a moral one.  And it's grounds where Ravitch may have the moral authority.   So I would like to take this argument backward- to what I believe is its foundation.  Is there agreement between Ravitch and Gates on seniority?  If we can agree, perhaps we can find new ways to pay and evaluate teachers.   A system that is more effective than the one used now, and one that will not turn the measure of teacher effectiveness into a test taken by students.   Or maybe the two don't agree, and seniority is the best way to go after all.  Either way, I think we could all benefit by an explicit answer.   So here is a new rhetorical question for Ravitch to answer:

Is the seniority system the best way to compensate teachers for their hard work?