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Labor Relations and Power

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In a comment to Scott’s post yesterday, Matt Yglesias said this about evaluation of the Chicago teachers.

My point about unions favoring job security for their members per se is that there’s little reason to give special deference to their views about evaluation. If you poll the Slate staff about how we’d like to be evaluated, we’ll tell you we want to be evaluated in ways that make us look good! Not because we’re “greedy” or “lazy” but because we’re regular people.

This seems uncontroversial but actually demonstrates a lot about the underlying assumptions of Matt and other liberal writers who have been less than supportive of the Chicago Teachers Union.

Is there any group involved in the evaluation of teachers (or any other workers for that matter) that is not self-interested? Should we give deference to any group? Management? Education “reformers?” Capitalists investing in privatized school systems? Parents (which is of course is a very self-selected group of parents)? Rahm Emanuel? Each and every one of these groups has a great deal of self-interest in how Chicago teachers are evaluated. Why should they have more say than the teachers themselves? Matt doesn’t really answer this.

What Matt seems to be saying is that employers ultimately should have a lot of control over evaluation processes. And while everyone would argue that employers deserve some say over this process, both history and the present are replete with millions of examples of employers controlling the evaluation process unilaterally and then abusing that process by firing workers, not because they aren’t competent, but because administration doesn’t like them.

The fundamental definition of a labor union is a group of workers mobilizing themselves to express power in the workplace. Control over worker evaluation is absolutely central to that process. Do workers have a right to defend themselves from unfair evaluation processes? To what extent are they allowed to extend those rights? Is there anyone more qualified to have a voice in this process than workers themselves? Anyone with less of a motive to evaluate to fit their political agenda?

Teacher evaluations are about power, pure and simple. If teachers shouldn’t get “special deference to their views about evaluation,” why should anyone else? Why should we care one iota more about what Rahm Emanuel or testing proponents care about teacher evaluations than we care about teachers own thoughts?

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  • Scott Lemieux

    You beat me to it. The hidden assumption that people who make enormous amounts of money bashing unions are somehow disinterested actors unlike unions is the erroneous assumption that defeats his whole argument.

    • And it’s so obvious, I almost can’t believe he actually doesn’t see it.

      • Well, look at his interests.

      • Or maybe he believes that the person PAYING the employee generally has the right to fire employees that he or she doesn’t like, so the employer’s interest in evaluations is fundamentally different than the union’s.

        This issue is all about your priors.

        • djangermous

          Except that none of the people demanding the right to fire teachers has anything to do with paying them, except inasmuch as they’re taxpaying Chicago citizens, which is also true of the teachers.

          So, no, they have no right to fire employees they just don’t like, and in reality, a duty to put the people of Chicago before their own petty personal interests.

          • terry buckalew

            Thanks for pointing out that teachers pay taxes. It seems simple, but I was once a government employee, and lots of wing nuts assumed I was somehow exempt from taxation.

      • Try explaining water to a fish. He’s been so thoroughly cocooned in his Harvard-pundit existence that he cannot see outside of it.

        • wengler

          Whenever I think of Harvard-educated people, especially those who graduated in the last 20 years, I assume that they know a fair number of people on Wall Street whose sole job is to fuck over us all.

          When your group of buddies are composed of plutocrats and oligarchs you have no perspective on issues of labor and workers’ rights.

          • My beloved is a Harvard grad of just over 20 years ago and, alas, we know very few people on Wall St. etc. She was in the arty/not born to wealth bit.

            It’d be interesting to see what the rest of MY’s cohort of philosophy majors are doing.

          • Marek

            A Harvard grad of relatively recent vintages runs our local community farm.

          • arguingwithsignposts

            Wasn’t it Matt Y who got mugged coming home from Megan McArdle’s house?

            • Calming Influence

              And Megan hasn’t been officially cleared in the case so far. Just sayin…

              • Calming Influence

                He may be fearing another ass kicking if he steps out of line again.

    • Cody

      I was confused for a second, thinking you were commenting on your own piece.

      I feel like this phenomenon is present in every Union argument. All the sudden the Union is all about grabbing money from the poor management, who obviously have no dog in this fight.

      A company makes $500 million in profit, but it’s the workers are are cruel for demanding paid vacation time? Or the management is an impartial voice because obviously how much profit they make doesn’t matter to them!

    • Jesse Levine

      For a substantial part of the last couple of years of my legal career I litigated for the New York City Department of Education against the teachers’ union. One of the major battles involved teacher evaluations. DOE made a good faith effort to devise an honest and effective evaluation system,but the practical difficulties were enormous. The major danger in this process is not methodology but the attempt, supported by some in government and many outside. to use evaluations and failing schools as an excuse to outsource a large portion of public education to for profit charter schools.

  • rea

    Teachers may not be disinterested, but at least they have some knowledge about what does and does not work.

    • DrDick

      Also, I will take standardized testing seriously as a measure for evaluation when they apply it to evaluating the administrators. Why are principals or the superintendent of schools not fired for low test scores in the schools, given that they set policies and standards?

      • Steve H

        This makes sense – but are you sure that principals and administrators are *not* fired when the schools within their jurisdiction perform badly on tests?

        This goes to a point that I think Erik’s post misses. Of course everyone involved in school system decisionmaking is self-interested. That is how it is supposed to work. At the top is usually a school board, which is either elected or appointed. Then below them are the superintendents, principals, and teachers. (That’s how it works in my kids’ schools anyway.)

        The self-interested school board will be motivated to do whatever it takes to ensure the highest-quality education, because if they are seen to a bad job they will be voted out.

        The superintendents will be motivated to do whatever it takes to ensure the highest-quality education, because if they don’t the self-interested school board will fire them.

        The principals will be motivated to do whatever it takes to ensure the highest-quality education, because if they don’t the self-interested superintendents will fire them

        But the teachers’ union has conflicting interests between doing whatever it takes to improve the quality of education, and advocating for their members. This isn’t meant to bash anyone, just to recognize that everyone is self-interested.

        To me, that is a valid point from Yglesias’ statement – because the unions have a conflict of interest, and a near-fiduciary duty to protect the teachers as a whole, they cannot necessarily be counted on to do whatever it takes to ensure the best education.

        • L2P

          Wow.

          You are either (1) one of the less than 1% of the people that are hyper-aware of your schools and can even name a school board member, or (2) have no effing idea what your school board does or who is on it.

          When the school board election comes up, and the TINY portion of the electorate actually votes, that TINY fraction that actually is aware of what’s going on will vote (PERHAPS) in such a way that it rewards good results and punishes bad results.

          The VAST MAJORITY of other voters are going to vote for whoever the Democratic/Republican party tells them to, or whoever has the most lawn signs out, or whatever. Maybe they will vote because of some scandal (teacher sex issue, inappropriate books, football team losing too much, or something else COMPLETELY UNRELATED TO RESULTS.)

          There is ZERO CHANCE that a school board election will EVER change a school board member based on something as fundamentally important as actual education in the schools. The voters just don’t know enough, and never will.

          • terry buckalew

            +100

        • Linnaeus

          There’s an asymmetry in this comment that I think illustrates the deference to management that I mentioned downthread. All parties involved have are motivated by self-interest (to some degree or another), but the assumption here is that management has a “pure” interest in “quality of education” (what constitutes quality can be contested, of course) whereas teachers (those most directly involved in providing that education) do not.

          • DrDick

            Management has a “pure” interest in feathering its own bed, just like anybody else.

        • spencer

          My experience is a bit, um, different.

          The school board, superintendant and principals are all most concerned with securing their own political positions, first and foremost. In my shit-tastic state, this means a) slashing budgets whenever possible, so they can appear to be “fiscally responsible” and so that nobody will worry about having to pay more in property tax; b) implementing teacher evaluation systems that appear to be intuitive and easy to understand, but really are worthless as evaluation tools and designed to be impossible for teachers to do well on; and c) blaming teachers for everything negative that happens as a result of administrative decisions.

          You really don’t understand just how political the world of public school administration is, do you?

          • Steve H

            I will certainly agree that everyone is most interested in securing their own positions.

            The question is how close is the relationship between having a position in the administration and school quality. It is easy to take the cynical view and say that there is no relationship, but I am not sure that that view is any more realistic than the cynical view of teachers espoused by people on the right.

            And for what it’s worth, I have no idea who my school board members are, because I am pretty satisfied with the way our schools are run in Salt Lake City. But I realize that this is because SLC has a massive demographic advantage over Chicago when it comes to the public school system.

            Also, to respond to Linnaeus, I am not assuming that anyone is pure – and I have no doubt that most individual teachers are going to care more about the quality of education than others in the system. To the contrary, I am assuming that everyone is self-interested.

            The only “impure” thing I am attributing to teachers’ unions is their interest in protecting their members’ jobs. (An interest that I believe Erik acknowledged in an earlier thread.)

            • Linnaeus

              The only “impure” thing I am attributing to teachers’ unions is their interest in protecting their members’ jobs. (An interest that I believe Erik acknowledged in an earlier thread.)

              Fair enough. My point is that I’m not convinced that teachers unions’ interest in protecting their members’ jobs is necessarily more in conflict with providing a quality education than the desires of the others in the system (board members, administrators) are.

              • Steve H

                You may very well be right.

                I guess my biggest thing in all of this is that there is a lot of uncertainty about what is the best way to improve public education.

                But given that we spend a shitload of money on public education, and the results don’t seem to be that great, and given that uncertainty, I think there should be room for people to disagree about these issues – or mention the fact that the teachers unions are not necessarily totally pure – without being smeared as anti-labor.

                • DrDick

                  A very strong argument could be made that the best way to improve public education is to fire all the administrators. After all, they set policies and procedures, make hiring and promotion decisions, set the curriculum, and ultimately make all the other decisions affecting the quality of education. If the schools suck, it is their fault and they should be the first to go. Of course in the real world, everybody blames the teachers and administrators are rarely held accountable.

                • Barry

                  “But given that we spend a shitload of money on public education, and the results don’t seem to be that great, and given that uncertainty, I think there should be room for people to disagree about these issues – or mention the fact that the teachers unions are not necessarily totally pure – without being smeared as anti-labor.”

                  If their attitude is ‘f*ck over the teachers’, based on no good information whatsoever, and in support of/ignoring the massive administrative malpractice, then, yes, we can smear them.

  • MikeJake

    Forget it, Erik, it’s Yggytown.

    • firefall

      You’ve got a nasty reputation, Mr Loomis. I like that

  • Lee

    My opinion is that nearly everybody is self-interested and that self-interest is not relevant to which side is right or wrong in a dispute. Thats why I do not take any argument about self-interest seriously.

  • John

    There are two important assumptions that Yglesias is making here. The first is, more or less, that teachers are only self-interested rent seekers, and, more or less, that anything they say about the efficacy of testing can be safely assumed to be about teachers’ self-interested rent-seeking, rather than about pedagogical concerns. This in spite of the fact that I have yet to meet a single teacher who does not have serious pedagogical concerns about constant use of standardized tests, while I have met plenty of teachers who are not worried that they will lose their jobs because of bad testing results (anecdotal evidence, but anecdotal evidence which I do not believe is atypical).

    The second assumption is that Matt’s position in favor of standardized testing is not the result of being indoctrinated by self-interested “education reform” advocates, but instead arises out of a cool and disinterested reading of the social science data. This assumption informs the first assumption, because it explains Matt’s continual assumption of bad faith on the part of teachers who object to standardized testing – the research is against them! They must be lying rent-seekers! It also seems to be based on very little – Matt never shows any evidence that he is conversant with any body of scholarly literature, much less that on education, beyond reading a few abstracts that provide superficial support for his own beliefs.

    • mds

      It also seems to be based on very little – Matt never shows any evidence that he is conversant with any body of scholarly literature

      Indeed, back in the day, the scholarly literature refuting him was pointed out in comments repeatedly, and he always completely ignored it, then proceeded to write yet another overrated self-entitled jackass post about education.

      • John

        Overrated by whom? Education reform seems to be the issue, among heavy competition, where Yglesias has always been held in the greatest contempt by his readership.

        • Holden Pattern

          He’s not writing for his readership; he’s writing for his paymasters.

      • Barry

        Worked for Megan.

        I have a feeling that she’s an example for lots of young pundits.

    • Matt never shows any evidence that he is conversant with any body of scholarly literature, much less that on education, beyond reading a few abstracts that provide superficial support for his own beliefs.

      I just checked and yes, if you read the Chetty et al abstract you could come away with Yggy’s position. If you also read the conclusion, you cannot. Prima facie evidence of your thesis!

      • AuRevoirGopher

        Sounds like the Iraq National Intelligence Estimate of 2002.

    • Hob

      “…I have yet to meet a single teacher who does not have serious pedagogical concerns about constant use of standardized tests, while I have met plenty of teachers who are not worried that they will lose their jobs because of bad testing results”

      Totally absent (not surprisingly) from arguments like Yglesias’s is any understanding of the effect that the test-centric approach has on the day-to-day work of the teachers who don’t lose their jobs. He’s acting as if they just want more security in the job they have; they’re saying that being required to teach to the test in such a narrow way makes it into a totally different kind of job, based on a different idea of what “teaching” is, an idea that they don’t agree with and that doesn’t make good use of a teacher’s skills.

      Given Yglesias’s commitment to laissez-faire principles in other fields, maybe he could understand this better if you proposed a regulation requiring all hairstylists to fulfill a quota of 500 mullets per week– and then sneered at the ones who didn’t want to do that, because clearly they’re just trying to protect their own jobs from other better stylists who know how to do mullets.

    • Scott Lemieux

      Right. My quantitative teacher evaluation scores are generally very good to excellent, but I would be vociferously opposed to tenure and promotion decisions being made primarily based on them, because it would be incredibly stupid and I actually care about my college and my profession.

    • DrDick

      I think, as a card carrying member of the “meritocracy”, that he favors what he perceives as purely objective measures of performance. The fact that the “objectivity” of standardized tests is a myth, as clearly demonstrated by a large body of scholarship on the class, race, and gender biases built into them, completely eludes him (as is also true for the role of class privilege and lack of merit to his supposed meritocracy).

    • wengler

      My mom’s a teacher who is currently in the middle of collective bargaining negotiations after a year that saw the district lay off 30 teachers. Implicit in these negotiations is that the district plans to lay off a couple dozen more at the end of this school year. When queried about administrative cuts, the superintendent claimed that they may cut 1 position at the district office at the end of the year after cutting none last year.

      These administrators are obviously disinterested actors that only want what is best for the children.

  • Brien Jackson

    I would add that this is really an argument that would apply much more directly to private sector work, but makes no sense in the context of public service work. It would be assholish of me to employ capricious and arbitrary evaluation methods at, say, the local Bar & Grill that I hypothetically own, but at least there’s a coherent argument to be made that since it’s my business I ought to be perfectly free to run it in an incompetent manner provided I don’t violate anti-discrimination laws or abuse employees. In education/public service, however “customer service” is the whole fucking point, so evaluation methods have no purpose to serve other than attempting to determine what/who delivers the best result. Certainly making “the boss” happy is neither here nor there.

    • John

      I think that Yglesias’s argument is pretty clearly based on the assumption that testing delivers the best result. This seems pretty obviously wrong to me, but it’s Yglesias’s starting point.

      And, perhaps a cheap shot, but how many standardized tests did Yglesias have to take at the Dalton School? In fact, do any private schools use standardized tests as the basis of teacher evaluation? If testing is the best way to evaluate teachers, then why do the schools with the most freedom to evaluate teachers however they like (no unions, no legislative mandates, no real restrictions of any kind on the administration’s ability to evaluate teachers however they want) pretty completely eschew such measures? Could it be because there are very strong pedagogical reasons to not spend half your time preparing kids for standardized tests?

      • Barry

        “I think that Yglesias’s argument is pretty clearly based on the assumption that testing delivers the best result. This seems pretty obviously wrong to me, but it’s Yglesias’s starting point.”

        As you sorta point out, it’s not really his starting point, because his education would not have involved much standardized testing.

        It’s an adopted viewpoint, based on sh*t for evidence.

      • brenda

        Not the school where Rahm sends his kids, that much we know for sure.

    • It still works in most public service. In every job, pleasing the boss is extremely important.

  • The best part is that his own comment provides evidence of his own bias in action.

    To wit, if you “find the Chetty et. al. line of research on test-based “value added” models of teacher quality to be quite persuasive (http://obs.rc.fas.harvard.edu/chetty/value_added.pdf)” then you should support “the CTU in its skepticism about using them in dismissal, compensation, and rehiring procedures”. Cause what Chetty et al. actually say is:

    While these calculations show that good teachers have great value, they do not by themselves have implications for optimal teacher salaries or merit pay policies. The most important lesson of this study is that finding policies to raise the quality of teaching–whether via the use of value-added measures, changes in salary structure, or teacher training–is likely to have substantial economic and social benefits in the long run.

    But to actually read to the end of the paper and to actually accept their conclusions would interfere with the union hating!

    And Matthew Yglesias hates unions.

    • djw

      To take this particular point a bit further, the article makes the case that VA on standardized testing seems to have some potential use in evaluating teachers. But they’re explicit that they don’t compare this to other evaluation methods or the costs associated with high turnover.

      Turning to the current conflict in Chicago, I heard on the radio the other day that the union position is that standardized testing should be 25% of the evaluation process, and admin. wants it at 40%. There’s simply no way the research, even taken in the best possible light, provides meaningful guidance on an empirical question this fine-grained.

      • Let’s go even further into the intro!

        It is important to keep two caveats in mind when evaluating the policy implications of our findings. First, teachers were not incentivized based on test scores in the school district and time period we study. The signal content of value-added might be lower when it is used to evaluate teachers because of behavioral responses such as cheating or teaching to the test (Jacob and Levitt 2003, Jacob 2005, Neal and Schanzenbach 2010). Our results quantify the gains from higher VA teachers in an environment without such distortions in teacher behavior.

        So, for all we know, going from 25% to 40% would destroy the utility of value add as a predictor. Way to go Matt!

        Second, our analysis does not compare value-added with other measures of teacher quality. It is quite plausible that aspects of teacher quality which are not captured by standardized tests have significant long-term impacts. This raises the possibility that other measures of teacher quality (e.g., evaluations based on classroom observation) might be even better predictors of teachers’ long-term impacts than value-added scores, though the signal content of these measures in a high stakes environment could also be degraded by behavioral distortions. Further work comparing the long-term impacts of teachers rated on various metrics is needed to determine the optimal method of teacher evaluation. What is clear from this study is that improving teacher quality is likely to yield substantial returns for students; the best way to accomplish that goal is less clear.

        Matthew Yglesias hates unions to the point of rabid irrationality. His being “persuaded” by the literature is not evidence of his technocratic chops but is a thin facade of technobullshit hackery on top of naked union hatred.

        (How’s that for psychologising!)

        • John

          I wouldn’t say Yglesias hates unions in general. He’s sort of vaguely supportive of unions in general, although almost never with any real passion or when anything very specific is on the line.

          Yglesias hates teachers’ unions, and that’s because he’s bought into ed reform bullshit. His wrongness here is a function of his love of ed reform garbage, not of a general hatred of unions.

          • John

            And I’d say his love of ed reform bullshit comes from a number of sources:

            1) his complete lack of any personal experience with public schools, and an unconscious classism that results from this

            2) his general tendency towards uber-technocratic meritocracy, which is a typical weakness of ed reform advocates

            3) a sort of general contrarian streak.

            These three issues are, unsurprisingly, the ones that generally cause Yglesias to go wrong.

            • James E. Powell

              You have to add in another factor. Since Yglesias has made his position on teachers’ unions part of his identity, his ego requires that he not change his position.

            • his general tendency towards uber-technocratic meritocracy

              In his uber-technocratic meritocracy, where do they put people who make public policy decisions based on reading the abstracts of papers and yet ignoring the critical caveats?

              In what sense is Matthew being technocratic rather than hacky in this exchange?

              • Walt

                Uber-technocratic meritocracy is almost hacky by necessity. The sum total of the empirical research on almost any social science question generally leads to a conclusion of “it’s hard to say”. Anyone who advocates grand reform on the basis of it is going to be someone who only ever reads abstracts.

              • John

                His commitment to technocracy is itself hacky, because it has little substance to it.

              • Barry

                “In his uber-technocratic meritocracy, where do they put people who make public policy decisions based on reading the abstracts of papers and yet ignoring the critical caveats?”

                Higher up on the payscale. He was a blogger/amature pundit during the Bush debacle; he’s seen which side gets rewarded.

          • AcademicLurker

            I wouldn’t say Yglesias hates unions in general. He’s sort of vaguely supportive of unions in general

            I believe that the standard Very Serious People position on unions is to be vaguely in favor of them as long as they don’t support their membership in any way shape or form.

            As soon as a union actually does something it’s: “Well now, I’m generally supportive of unions but this is going too far.”

            • This is too simplistic. Unions sometimes do go too far. I wouldn’t have defended mob connections on the ground that unions were good for working class interests, for instance.

              And in general unions DO try to protect useless employees because they owe fiduciary duties to them. Newspaper unions protected Linotype jobs long after the machines became obsolete. The MLBPA protects the DH which is bad for baseball.

              Unions might be right about teacher evaluations. But they would oppose them anyway even if the evaluations were proper because their job is to protect teachers’ jobs.

              • I stopped taking anything you had to say seriously when you said the DH was bad for baseball.

                • mark f

                  Like Dilan, I believe that my aesthetic preferences should govern labor relations. I heard Dane Cook has a SAG card, so I don’t see why the teachers don’t just get the fuck back to work already.

                • I used to support unions, but ever since I heard Kenny G was part of the musician’s union I’ve realized they only exist to protect worthless members

                • David M. Nieporent

                  See, I was all set to point out how this was a typically dumb Loomis post — not understanding that parents should have more say than teachers because the point of school is to serve parents, not teachers — and then he uncharacteristically says something intelligent like the above.

                • elm

                  Do you have any evidence that Rahm represents the parents better than the CTU does? Because absent that (or absent evidence that one side is right is right on the education implications) I’ll side with workers, thank you.

                  Especially since the evidence seems to suggest that the CTU is more right than Rahm here, even the evidence the ‘reformers’ like MattY point to, as Bijan has pointed out repeatedly.

                • DrDick

                  not understanding that parents should have more say than teachers because the point of school is to serve parents, not teachers

                  Wrong again, as usual. The purpose of school is not to serve the parents, who often have no idea of what their children should and need to learn, but to serve the children and society as a whole. Of course I would not expect a libertarian to understand something as basic as that.

              • James E. Powell

                they would oppose them anyway even if the evaluations were proper because their job is to protect teachers’ jobs.

                Absolutely wrong. If standardized test scores were a valid way of measuring teaching, teachers and their unions would insist upon using them.

                • Steve H

                  Just curious, what evidence are you relying on for that statement?

                • DrDick

                  In point of fact, union members generally support the removal of truly bad employees, who put more work on the good ones and make everybody’s life miserable. I know this is true of teachers, or at least the ones I have talked to. What they oppose is arbitrary and potentially capricious criteria with great potential for abuse by management.

                • djangermous

                  Well sure if you want to make some kind of crazy assumption that people who become teachers generally want to teach, or some crazy thing like that.

              • Marek

                Unions do not, in general, try to protect “useless” members. (I hedge because there are always exceptions.) Unions owe a “duty of fair representation” to all employees they represent, but that means that the union must not be arbitrary or discriminatory in its representation of those employees. It does not mean that the union has to fight tooth and nail to protect “useless” employees.

                There are several reasons for this. First, the other employees have to work with the “useless” employee. In most workplaces, it makes your job harder or even more dangerous if the next guy or gal isn’t able to do his/her own job. Second, unions have limited resources, and are not interested in using those resources to protect dead weight. Third, a moderately competent employer is able to fire an employee who has “just cause” protection regardless of any action taken by the union – and any union knows this.

                If a union makes a good-faith determination that a grievance is not meritorious, or that it would otherwise not advance the union’s purposes to pursue a grievance, it is not required to do so.

                • wengler

                  The implicit argument that anti-union people make is that employee protections ensure that in this case bad teachers get to continue teaching whereas without those protections there would be less bad teachers.

                  This has been the exact opposite of what my life experience has taught me.

            • Bill Murray

              I thought he VSP position was unions used to be good for workers but they aren’t really needed anymore because changes in the work force/type of work being done, laws passed in the interim those sorts of things.

              • Linnaeus

                There are different, ahem, species of the VSP genus.

                • Anonymous

                  well you would know most about that, Carolus

          • So the only unions he pays sufficient attention to to have some vague idea about he hates?

            I stand by my statement.

            Matthew Yglesias hates unions.

            I’m happy to revise this slogan with some nuance as soon as Yggy comes on and concedes that he was full of crap about the Chetty.

            (Matthew Yglesias hates teacher unions most of all.)

            • John

              I suppose that’s not an unreasonable position. I guess my objection is that I think his hatred of teachers’ unions comes from sources largely unrelated to a general hatred of unions, and that I can’t remember him really demonstrating a general hatred of unions.

              He had a number of pro-EFCA posts, for instance – here, here, and here, for instance.

              His hatred of teachers’ unions is something special, and I think largely unrelated to a general hatred of unions (although I suppose Matt has probably also moved right since those posts were written).

              • The problem is that in his zeal to hate on the teacher (and presumably other public unions) he ends up hating on unions, period.

                Thanks for this link, I found this passage instructive:

                And they hate the Employee Free Choice Act. EFCA would make it easier to form unions. And the evidence indicates that unions flatten the compensation structure at unionized firms—more money for folks at the low end, less for folks at the top. If I were a corporate manager, I wouldn’t want that to happen to me. And if, as a manager, I was able to use the company’s resources to advance my interests by fighting EFCA, I would want to do that. And that’s what they’re doing.

                Nicely inverted from his riff on how unions work here.

                Also, hating on even a specific sort of union using general anti union terms, tropes, and thinking during a strike is kinda sucky. I don’t think he has a lot of power here, but frankly, given the state of unionization and general attitudes toward unions, if you give a shit about unions you take these moments as teachable moments. Even if you disagree with a particular union action or stance, you don’t need to trash them.

          • djangermous

            He’s sort of vaguely supportive of unions in general, although almost never with any real passion or when anything very specific is on the line.

            So what you’re saying is, he hates unions.

            • John

              Not really. In the past he’s actually been quite a bit better on labor issues than your generic neoliberal hack. See the posts I linked above. He has, in the past at least, argued pretty strongly in favor of the right to organize, and that strong unions make for a more just and prosperous society.

              I’ve mostly stopped reading him since the move to Slate, but he certainly seems to have gotten more generically hackishly neoliberal in the interim. But I really do think his hackishness here has to do specifically with education policy, and not with his positions on labor as a whole.

  • Joseph Slater

    One of the central defenses of unions and collective bargaining is that workers have knowledge and insights into their own jobs that others generally lack, and that this knowledge can and should be used to make the enterprise run better. This is especially true of teachers who, you know, aren’t generally in it for the money.

    Further, I don’t understand this conception of collective bargaining as somehow allowing teachers to unilaterally decide on their evaluation system (or otherwise get everything they want). In fact, what collective bargaining does is force/allow the parties to sit down and work out something together, combining the knowledge (and yes, interests) of both parties.

    The right to strike is supposed to guarantee that the union has an effective method of input by potentially imposing costs on the employer for not compromising. But it’s not actually like letting the Slate staff unilaterally determine their own evaluation systems for themselves.

    • Fake Irishman

      +1

  • That Slate staff are uninterested in a process that helps them improve is entirely possible, but to therefor conclude that teachers as a class are uninterested in improving the quality of teaching (and therefore education) is nuts.

  • Jeffrey Beaumont

    I’m not really sure Yglesias doesnt see it, but maybe he does not. I guess the point is that collective bargaining is a bargaining process where both sides present policies designed to advantage them, and then negotiate a middle ground. So in that case, just supporting the union doing what unions do is not deferring to anyone.

    But in the case of the teachers unions and evaluation through the ridiculous emphasis on standardized testing, the issue is a little different. Here the problem isnt just negotiation about evaluations. Here the facts show that this is a terrible way to evaluate teachers, schools, students, etc. Supporting the CTU here is just supporting them on good policy.

    • rea

      collective bargaining is a bargaining process where both sides present policies designed to advantage them, and then negotiate a middle ground.

      And beyond that, it ought to be a process in which the common interest of both sides in a well-functioning enterprise trumps their transient disagreements. But that’s a utopian notion, I guess.

  • rea

    it’s not actually like letting the Slate staff unilaterally determine their own evaluation systems for themselves.

    And in fact, one could readily imagine a unionized magazine staff bargaining collectively with management over proper evalution methods.

  • Marc

    I actually found the Nocera column today to be surprisingly sensible.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/18/opinion/nocera-how-to-fix-the-schools.html

  • It seems to me Yglesias should love this process since it’s very competition based. Labor and management hammer out an agreement based on their interests which allows neither the upper-hand. I believe that FDR suggested the best outcome for the country was to have both strong management and strong unions with the government serving as the agent to balance them and make sure neither gains the upper-hand.

    I am more pro-union process than I’m a pro-union in the sense I won’t kneejerk support any stance a union takes but always think they have a right to take tough self-interested stances. No one else will do it for them.

  • UserGoogol

    Well I suppose it depends on what you mean by management. It seems like a foundational idea of progressivism that policy often ought to be managed by technocrats worked on a proper understanding of science.

    The problem of course is that there’s management and then there’s management. The particular people who happen to take administrative roles in an organization are not necessarily remotely technocratic. So in the conflict between workers and “managers” there’s no particular reason why management is going to be on the side of science.

    But the conflict over “education reform” isn’t something that originated with the particular managers at Chicago Public School. Instead you have a broad group of people who think one way of organizing education is optimal, and have some evidence to support that, and then another broad group of people who think another way of organizing education is optimal, and have some other evidence for that. Then from within the context over that debate, teachers are siding with one perspective and management is siding with the other.

    But since Rahm Emanuel is a democratically elected representative, it’s not like his views are merely the views of “management.” He represents the people of Chicago, which ought to make him less biased. (Although the democratic process is not precise or accurate enough to assure that every policy of politicians is going to be representative.) But, still, the data on education policy is vague enough that there’s a pretty plausible case that Rahm Emanuel is in fact wrong, and that at any rate the demands of the unions are perfectly reasonable.

    • It seems like a foundational idea of progressivism that policy often ought to be managed by technocrats worked on a proper understanding of science.

      Sure! But this entails reading beyond the abstract, I presume.

      • John

        Getting a philosophy A.B. from Harvard and reading a bunch of abstracts is exactly the training our meritocratic technocracy needs!

        I think the big problem here is that you don’t understand how Matt’s training as a philosopher has given him the ability to make cognitive leaps that the rest of us poor souls cannot make. Because he’s a philosopher.

        • I’m afraid that my mere PhD in philosophy sadly has not equipped me to follow his leaps because I’m a philosopher.

          • John

            I’m not sure I see how your actual PhD in philosophy can compare with Yglesias’s A.B. from Harvard. I mean, the vast majority of A.B.’s from Harvard are, most likely, working for investment banks making tons of money, whereas actual PhD’s in philosophy are, at best, working as university professors somewhere. Meritocratic technocracy proves, I think, that the Harvard A.B.’s have mastered philosophy in a profit-maximizing way that the PhD’s simply can’t follow.

            (BTW, I was being facetious – I actually knew you were a real philosopher. I find it amusing how Yglesias defenders like to claim that we just don’t understand his points because he’s a philosopher).

            • I’m not sure I see how your actual PhD in philosophy can compare with Yglesias’s A.B. from Harvard.

              Tis true. Matt is a big time blogger. I comment on LGM, mostly. The shame.

              Meritocratic technocracy proves, I think, that the Harvard A.B.’s have mastered philosophy in a profit-maximizing way that the PhD’s simply can’t follow.

              But what about the psychic wages, eh?!?!?!? The PhD well of bitterness is unfuckngtainted!!!!

              (I knew you were. I just love this joke. I’m waiting for a Yglesias defender to deal with the fact that people trained in philosophy might find fault with Lil Plato’s words.)

              (Poor Aaron! Sorry dude!)

        • wengler

          I was following his arguments but then decided that it doesn’t really matter because he doesn’t really exist.

    • James E. Powell

      The idea that Rahm Emanuel (or any elected official) represents “the people” of anywhere is ridiculous. He represents the interests of the very wealthy people who have bankrolled his career and those who he hopes will do so in the future.

      • wengler

        Chicago mayoral races are almost always a racial triangulation job anyways. This is a city that ended up with one of America’s dumbest people as mayor for over 20 years in Junior.

    • mpowell

      This was basically my take as well. Yglesias makes a point that under different circumstances might be a perfectly valid one. The question here is why has the education reform movement settled on a model of teacher evaluation that has virtually no evidence supporting it’s validity? Is it because those people just hate teachers? I guess it’s one possibility. But I suspect it’s because the intuitive appeal of the idea has overcome people’s ability to look at the actual evidence and so now we have a movement of people actually interested in improving public schools pushing policy that will be directly contrary to that goal.

      • Barry

        “The question here is why has the education reform movement settled on a model of teacher evaluation that has virtually no evidence supporting it’s validity? Is it because those people just hate teachers? I guess it’s one possibility.”

        See the past thirty-odd years of neoliberalism, privatization/looting, etc.

      • fledermaus

        It’s because the “education reform movement” like all MBA know-nothings, loves them some numbers. Who cares about the effect of economic and social problems, facilities maintence, administrative bloat when you can just slap a single number on “student learning” and make some teacher who has little control over the test administered, home conditions of students and other things involving the day to day operations of a school. Who even cares if the number actually measures anything at all – let alone what the administrators say it does.

        Put a number on it and make sure you’re not the one responsible for it. The oldest trick in the management playbook.

      • djw

        The question here is why has the education reform movement settled on a model of teacher evaluation that has virtually no evidence supporting it’s validity?

        I’ve been re-reading Seeing Like a State this week, and I find Scott’s framework there quite useful. You’ve got a bunch of teachers, and some goals and projects that require sorting them into categories based on quality. For reasons of administrative simplicity and a general high modernist orientation, you’ll want some sort of thin, universal simplification (preferably readable on a spreadsheet). Standardized test scores fit your needs perfectly. The belief in their validity follows from that.

      • Rob

        The entire point of the movement is to break teacher’s unions. That is why tit gets funding from places like the Bradley Foundation.

  • rea

    I’m not sure I understand how the grandson of the Daily Worker‘s film critic got to where Matt Yglesias is today.

    • John

      See also David and Ed Miliband for a similar trajectory.

    • rea

      I actually read a novel by Jose Yglesias, called Tristan and the Hispanics. Not bad, by the way, but the point is, it’s about the Ivy-league educated, upper class grandson of a radical leftist Hispanic author coming to grips with his legacy. Oddly, it was written when Matt Yglesias was still a pre-teen . . .

      • Rob

        Keep in mind his dad made his money as a screenwriter. You know, heavily unionized.

    • L2P

      Money, of course. And privilege.

  • I don’t think we even need to take a detour through class conflict.

    Teachers should be evaluated using a system that is effective and evaluating the quality of instruction they provide. The blunt application of standardized test scores is not an effective measure of this variable.

    • Cody

      It’s a great way to get schools closed though.

      And that’s what this whole standardized testing scheme is about.

  • tt

    I again fail to see where exactly LGM disagrees on point of fact or principle (as opposed to tone and attitude) with Matt Yglesias. Yglesias says that teachers unions are interested in protecting their member’s job security regardless of evaluation method. Loomis says that employers of teachers and education reformers are interested in reducing teacher job security. These statements are not contradictory. They can both be true at once. Indeed, they are.

    If teachers shouldn’t get “special deference to their views about evaluation,” why should anyone else?

    No one should? Teacher evaluation should be decided as any other policy matter should be decided, from a progressive perspective–based on 1) the best science we can get 2) taking society’s interests into account, with special concern for the least well-off. In any given conflict we should join whichever side gets us closer to this goal. For what it’s worth, I think the CTU is on the right side here.

    • The idea that “science” has something to say here is totally ridiculous.

      The amount of faith some liberals put into data is like a religion. Like any religion, that data can be interpreted however you want.

      • tt

        Well, I’m glad you say this because it’s something that Yglesias obviously does disagree with. And it’s far more radical (and therefore more interesting and potentially productive) a position than you take in the OP and also very far from the CTU’s position. I’m curious whether the other LGM bloggers agree.

        • djw

          The data on the value of standardized testing as a tool to measure the quality of teachers is so far, far too inconclusive to reach any meaningful conclusion about it’s proper role in teacher evaluation schemes; let alone hiring/firing decisions. (A closer look at the paper MY chooses to cite conducted by high value added commenter Bijan Parsia, is a good place to start). This indeterminate and pliable nature of existing data on this topic obviously isn’t universal; the sum total of data suggesting that, say, global warming is a serious problem for humanity going forward or starting land wars in Asia is unwise seems quite a bit more dispositive, but when dealing with a literature this inconclusive, I don’t really think a detour into the philosophy of social science is necessary.

          • high value added commenter Bijan Parsia

            I support making tt’s results on standardized test 40% of my evaluation as commentator.

            but when dealing with a literature this inconclusive

            I definitely wouldn’t take the paper as conclusive, but my prima facie reading is that it’s not bad at all. The main point is that it doesn’t support what MY insinuates it supports. You could think that the data is superawesome and the connection between that data and the professed conclusions were as strong as the connection between the data and global warming and it still wouldn’t help MY even a little, tiny bit.

            Frankly, this hugely pisses me off.

          • tt

            The data on the value of standardized testing as a tool to measure the quality of teachers is so far, far too inconclusive to reach any meaningful conclusion about it’s proper role in teacher evaluation schemes; let alone hiring/firing decisions

            I’m not an expert on this subject but at this point I agree with you. I wish we were having a discussion on this rather than on a misreading of Yglesias.

      • But the way, I just wanted to point out, Erik, that the data show that you are wrong on this point.

      • Tom

        Exactly. Liberals ought to make decisions based on their gut. Did you know the gut has more nerve endings than the brain?

      • This is a very inartfully and uselessly expressed statement. It uses all the inflammatory anti-science words like “quotes” and “religion”- what does it even mean, Erik? The fact that some people will used flawed data to advance their interests is not science, and not all data can be interpreted any way you want. Not every field is Eco-Psych. Data can be given appropriate or inappropriate weight. This does not equate science with religion. It contrasts science and non-science. Seriously, dude!

        • Evo-pysch is what I meant, but Eco-psych would probably be similar.

    • John

      Have you ever read anything Yglesias has written about education policy before the CTU strike. There’s a very good reason why nobody is giving him the benefit of the doubt here.

      • tt

        I read Yglesias all the time when he blogged for ThinkProgress and know his views on education policy. It’s not about benefit of the doubt–I don’t particularly care which bloggers are good and which are evil–so much as whether it’s possible to have a conversation when both parties are talking past each other.

        • If you want to start somewhere, how about starting with Matt’s non-reading of the paper he cites.

          I mean, how can we even begin to have a conversation with him where the main thing he anoints as his proxy disagrees with him?

    • Barry

      “I again fail to see where exactly LGM disagrees on point of fact or principle (as opposed to tone and attitude) with Matt Yglesias. ”

      Then please have somebody read the original post up top to you.

      • tt

        I read it carefully. Please point to the contradiction between what Loomis says in the post and what it is responding to.

        • Yggles: “My point about unions favoring job security for their members per se is that there’s little reason to give special deference to their views about evaluation.”

          Loomis:

          1 – There is no group or position that does not fall to the same critique Yggles is making about teachers unions. “Is there any group involved in the evaluation of teachers (or any other workers for that matter) that is not self-interested? . . . Why should they have more say than the teachers themselves? Matt doesn’t really answer this.”

          Note too this is an argument against all union activity in general, which kind of informs the “Yggles hates unions / no he doesn’t” discussion above.

          2 – “What Matt seems to be saying is that employers ultimately should have a lot of control over evaluation processes.” Loomis analyzes and critiques the view that “employers ultimately should have a lot of control over evaluation processes” in the rest of the post.

          All there, black and white, clear as crystal.

          • tt

            1. Matt never says that other groups are less interested so I don’t see the contradiction.
            2. Where does Matt say that “employers ultimately should have a lot of control over evaluation processes?”

            • 1. Yggles’ point is that there’s little reason to give deference to teachers union views on employment decisions because they are self-interested.

              There are no groups which are not self-interested about employment decisions. You could put “management” or “politician” or “administrative bureaucrat” or any other group in place of “teachers union” in the sentence above and it would work just as well. Yggles is trying to make a distinction that isn’t there.

              In order for Yggles’ argument to work there would have to be some other group that makes employment decisions that is not self-interested. Loomis points out there is not.

              2. Yggles does not think employees can provide valuable input on employment decisions. “Employers ultimately should have a lot of control over evaluation processes” is an obvious rephrasing of that viewpoint.

              • tt

                1. Yglesias’ position is that there is a public policy discussion that is worth having about teacher evals on the merits. In that discussion, there is no need to give deference to any interested party.
                2. Again, you’re putting words in Yglesias’ mouth that he never actually said.

                • In that discussion, there is no need to give deference to any interested party.

                  Like a UNION UNION UNION!!!

                • But every single party has interest in the idea of teacher evals.

                • 1. For fuck’s sake he’s not talking about rules of public discourse he’s talking about what should be the actual mechanisms that determine policy in which currently the teachers union has a place at the negotiating table.

                  He does not think they should. Because they do not have much insight of value to offer about employment decisions. Because they are self-interested.

                  2. Please explain how “employees should not have very much say in employment decisions” is not functionally equivalent to “employers should have a great deal of say in employment decisions”.

                  If you can find a difference, please also explain how that difference makes Loomis’ analysis incorrect.

                • tt

                  But every single party has interest in the idea of teacher evals.

                  Every single party has interest in every policy issue. I nevertheless reject the view that policy is only about power relations and that knowledge, science, data, etc. have no bearing, Why are you even an academic if you take this view?

                • You are trying to make a mountain out of a molehill on this data thing.

                  I could explicate my view on data in 1200 words. But I’m not going to. Suffice it to say that my fundamental problem is not data’s existence but a) the idea that it is objective, b) that people fetishize it, c) that all things can be measured and that if we only read the data right we can come up with the “correct” policy, and d) that somehow we can remove data from the reality of power relations.

                • Also, I’m a historian. I tell stories.

                • Yglesias’ position is that there is a public policy discussion that is worth having about teacher evals on the merits.

                  For which his substantive contribution is drawing the wrong conclusion based on not getting beyond the abstract.

                  Isn’t that really enough?

                • mark f

                  his substantive contribution is drawing the wrong conclusion based on not getting beyond the abstract

                  While dismissing opposition as limited to emotional whose-side-are-you-on-ism and teachers’ economic self-interest. That’s it. He says “I think this paper is right, by the way did you know that people hate to be fired?,” except in a condescending I-can’t-believe-you-don’t-know-this Econ-101 textbook tone that I can’t quite replicate.

                • tt

                  But, Erik Loomis, when you state your position like that who would disagree with it? None of those four statements are the least bit objectionable to me. So we’ve gotten nowhere.

                  Yglesias says we should treat ed reform as a policy issue (I agree), and not give deference to unions in evaluating it as a policy issue (I agree). You say objectivity is impossible (I agree) and that all sides have interests in teacher evaluations (I agree) and that data can be interpreted lots of ways (I agree). All these points seem compatible to me.

                • Yglesias says we should treat ed reform

                  Framing.

                • tt

                  Both Sides Do It:

                  For fuck’s sake he’s not talking about rules of public discourse

                  Public discourse is exactly what Yglesias is talking about .

                  I’m happy to concede that reasonable people could disagree about this, and am always happy to read more research on value added. But a lot of the discussion on the CTU subject from Lemieux, Farley, Loomis and others like Corey Robin & Doug Henwood has been excessively invested in first principles, questioning of motives, and armchair psychoanalysis that ignores the possibility that one could have a banal disagreement on the merits about this.

            • Matt never says that other groups are less interested so I don’t see the contradiction.

              Eh. First, it’s pretty easy to read between the lines. Reading between the lines isn’t a complaint about tone.

              Second, well, since you missed things he actually said, perhaps you should be a wee bit more humble here?

        • Please read my comment above and follow the links. I disagree with Matthew that Chetty et al support Rahm et al over CTU on the role of value add metrics in improving teaching.

          See also my comments in various threads (as well as those by others) pointing out that unions are not particularly interested in keeping bad (for appropriate definitions of “bad”) teachers in their jobs.

          I speak as a member of a teachers (higher ed) union.

          • tt

            I do not know whether Yglesias ever said something to the effect that Chetty et al support Rahm over CTU in this particular strike. He didn’t say that in the comment you link to, or in the original post Scott responded to.

            Moreover, if you disagree with Yglesias about what the research says or implies, that’s obviously a genuine disagreement between you and Yglesias. But that is not Loomis’ position. As we see from his response to my post, Loomis has a more fundamental disagreement.

            • Come come!

              I do not know whether Yglesias ever said something to the effect that Chetty et al support Rahm over CTU in this particular strike. He didn’t say that in the comment you link to, or in the original post Scott responded to.

              If you don’t know, then you didn’t read:

              As I’ve written previously (http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2012/09/13/chicago_teacher_s_strike_are_value_added_models_of_teacher_quality_any_good_.html), I find the Chetty et. al. line of research on test-based “value added” models of teacher quality to be quite persuasive … so I think it would be more public policy to indulge the CTU in its skepticism about using them in dismissal, compensation, and rehiring procedures.

              In the link:

              I am basically on Team Chetty with regard to this. Others will disagree. But contrary to the impression you’ll get reading blogs, it really isn’t a question whose answer can be deduced from ideological first principles. My general view is that the wise politician will simply take the fact that teachers don’t like being evaluated this way at face value and will offer them more money in exchange for accepting it (that’s what we’ve done in Washington).

              So, I think it’s a fair attibution to say that he’s on the side of Rahm on substance.

              As for your second claim, you originally queried:

              I again fail to see where exactly LGM disagrees on point of fact or principle (as opposed to tone and attitude) with Matt Yglesias.

              Am I not a valued member of team LGM, regular commentator division?

              Oh, and what about all the stuff about How Unions Don’t Want Bad Employees To Lose Their Jobs, which I outsource to Both Sides Do It. You’re being obtuse up there as well, for the record.

              • tt

                I’m trying to establish the main disagreement in principle or fact between Yglesias and Loomis/Lemieux. I understand your disagreement with him (though I think Yglesias is very careful not to explicitly side with Rahm here, and he does not analyze the specific positions of each side in the post you link to). And I value the contribution you and others have made in bringing substance to this discussion. If the majority of the conversation were on that substance, I would not have made the post I did.

                • I’m trying to establish the main disagreement in principle or fact between Yglesias and Loomis/Lemieux.

                  Frankly, this seems like a doge. But ok.

                  I understand your disagreement with him (though I think Yglesias is very careful not to explicitly side with Rahm here, and he does not analyze the specific positions of each side in the post you link to).

                  Your reading is ridiculous. He explicitly opposed CTU and he explicit endorses a Rahmesque reading of Chetty (contrary to the actual implications of Chetty). In other words, he has as much as committed himself to e.g., using 40% over 25% weighting of VAesque metrics.

                  At any point, he could have mobilized his vast technohackic powers to slime Rahm in the way that he’s slimed CTU. He didn’t. It speaks volumes.

                  But ok, Matthew himself says he disagrees with Scott’s claim:

                  In particular, believing that teachers should not be promoted or fired based on solely on standardized test scores is not at all the same thing as saying that bad teachers shouldn’t be fired.

                  180 degrees wrong, according to Matt.

                • tt

                  How is it a dodge? It’s the only place I’ve ever got involved in this discussion. Yglesias vs. the progressives is a recurring thing for the last few years and nothing productive ever seems to come from it. I think it’s because both parties talk past each other.

                  And you continue to misread Matt. Matt does not say Scott is “180 degrees wrong”, he says his claim “180 degrees backwards”; i.e., it’s the wrong way of looking at the issue, not that it’s logically or factually incorrect. Read the post carefully and without bias and this is clear.

                • How is it a dodge?

                  Instead of addressing all or what you yourself think is the substantive points of critique however they arose in the course of the discussion, you claim to be looking for a very narrow comparison.

                  Why? What purpose does this serve other than to shield MY from criticism?

                  Second, MY has clearly endorsed a heavy handed use of VA metrics and L&L have clearly rejected such use. It’s easy to find explicitly statements to this effect on both sides. This neatly aligns with management vs. labor in this dispute.

                  In your readings, you rely a lot on the fact that MY has written relatively little and a lot of what he says is elliptical with, it seems, the principle that unless he fully spells it out in so many words that he cannot be said to hold a position. But that’s clearly bonkers. See above.

                  And you continue to misread Matt. Matt does not say Scott is “180 degrees wrong”, he says his claim “180 degrees backwards”; i.e., it’s the wrong way of looking at the issue, not that it’s logically or factually incorrect.

                  Hahahahahah. Where does it say in what I wrote that I meant “180 degrees wrong” to mean factually or logically incorrect, huh? Huh?!!!!

                  Now, while my paraphrase wasn’t particularly apt, it’s a large stretch to go from “Scott gets it 180 degrees backwards” to “they don’t disagree”.

                  You’re being completely silly here.

                  Scott (as quoted by Matt):

                  “In particular, believing that teachers should not be promoted or fired based on solely on standardized test scores is not at all the same thing as saying that bad teachers shouldn’t be fired.”

                  Matt:

                  I think this is 180 degrees backward. The controversy about what is and isn’t an appropriate metric by which to assess a teacher’s performance is obviously a very important one. But the idea that labor union objections to firing their members are fundamentally about evaluation metrics is extraordinarily naive. Under any possible evaluation scheme—whether for teachers, journalists, auto workers, basketball players, truck drivers, or what have you—the union is going to want to make it as difficult as possible to fire people. The idea of a labor union is to, among other things, represent the workforce’s interests and give voice to its desires. And in my experience people don’t want to get fired! In any kind of unionized workplace you see management pushing for more flexibility (i.e., ability to fire people) and the union pushing for more job securitiy (i.e., it’s easier to keep your job even if management decides you’re bad at it).

                  The upshot is that while obviously nobody’s going to say “I think it should be impossible to fire bad teachers,” in almost any context a union is going to want to define the set of workers whose performance is deemed unacceptably subpar as narrowly as possible. That’s what the union is for.

                  Matt is clearly saying that while the union is nominally going to say “make it impossible to fire bad teachers,” that is in fact what they are going to do. There’s some weaselling in there and, as I pointed out before, he shifts between “bad” and “management thinks is bad”.

                  But seriously, just because MY is being a weasel doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be held accountable for his implicatures.

                  That’s not “bias”, but a reasonable reading of what he wrote and a key component of the dispute. if you want to go on failing to understand the dispute, by all means, continue.

                  But again, given some of your obvious failures of interpretation, perhaps you’d do a bit better to, at least temporarily, try to change your interpretative strategy. At the very least, it’s clear that Matt thinks Scott’s wrong about something.

                • tt

                  What purpose does this serve other than to shield MY from criticism?

                  Yglesias does not believe that management deserves “special deference to their views about evaluation.” To the extent that he agrees with management in this particular case about evaluation, that’s for prior reasons having to do with his general beliefs about education policy. Therefore, Loomis’ argument is unproductive–where we could be arguing the argument you want to make, about education research and what it says and whether Yglesias is misinterpreting it or not, we are instead talking in terms where Yglesias can simply say, as he has many times before, that his critics are taking his views in the worst possible light and he doesn’t actually believe what he is accused of believing. There is nothing for me to say on the substance because I already mostly agree with you on it. It would be interesting to see Yglesias’ response but he is unlikely to respond to you since you don’t have a famous blog.

        • djw

          I’ll grant you that if you read the phrase “special deference” in a sufficiently tendentious manner, you can render Yglesias’ point consistent with the point in this post. But such a reading of Yglesias would a) make little sense in the context of this discussion, and b) render his commentary more or less entirely pointless.

          • Ticker tape parade, confetti, slurpees for everyone. This comment has got that THING. It has got the juice. I hear Okkervil River’s “Plus Ones”. May they rain down upon this comment.

            I suspect it will have no effect on tt.

          • tt

            I don’t think any tendentiousness is required.

            Yglesias’ claim is 1) many on the left (and unions themselves) support the union positions on first principles for reasons having to do with their general opinion on unions 2) instead we should evaluate their position in policy terms, without giving any deference to the unions based on our prior sympathies.

            Loomis’ claim is that every group is self-interested and that we should not defer to employer’s interests in their power battle against employees.

            I think both these positions are right, and can in fact be combined quite easily. We can recognize that there is an actual power battle going on between one group of self-interested employers and one group of self-interested employees and at the same time evaluate the position of each side–and choose which to support–on solid public policy grounds. What’s wrong with this?

            • Linnaeus

              But what we think is good policy policy isn’t independent of first principles.

              • Linnaeus

                Er, that’s “good public policy”.

              • tt

                Right. And if there is in fact a difference in first principles that drives a difference in position between Loomis and Yglesias it would be potentially productive to isolate it. But this post doesn’t do that because its conclusion is compatible with Yglesias’s first principles.

  • James E. Powell

    Another thing.

    Every person who argues that unions protect bad teachers forgets that unions also protect good teachers.

    Why do those who oppose teachers’ unions assume the good faith and competence of the administrators? What measures are there for administrators’ effectiveness?

    • Linnaeus

      Why do those who oppose teachers’ unions assume the good faith and competence of the administrators?

      This bears repeating. I’m not the only one to point this out, but Yglesias’s arguments on this issue indicate a deference to management based on at least two unspoken premises: 1) that the instruments management will use to evaulate teachers (and employees generally) are valid and reliable and 2) that management has no interests that can distort what instruments they choose to use and how they are applied.

      • DrDick

        It also assumes, in the absence of any data or evaluation process, that management is in fact competent to make these evaluations and decisions, even if the measures used are relevant and accurate (which they are not unamibuously).

      • Anonymous

        this is why a foundational idea of progressivism that policy often ought to be managed by technocrats worked on a proper understanding of science probably won’t work and thus probably shouldn’t be a foundational idea at all.

  • Chet Murthy

    I think we should let Michelle Rhee decide. Because her experience with the Wash DC schools (and record of success) show that she’s got the interests of students at hand.

    • Chet Murthy

      at -heart-!

      • elm

        If your teachers had had to prove their worth with standardized tests, you would not have made that error.

  • Wait. Someone evaluates Slate’s writers?

    • witless chum

      Yeah, that was the real howler. Nobody who publishes that many years of Mickey Kaus does anything of the kind.

  • Bertie

    I don’t understand this blog’s obsession with Matthew Yglesias. He’s prolific. He cranks out huge numbers of words, every day. He’s the Andrew Sullivan of his generation in that regard. He’s probably made more money than any other center-left blogger of his age cohort.

    But he doesn’t as far as I know have any actual power in the sense that bloggers and journalists have power.

    If you want to pick on someone of his age cohort, go pick on Ezra Klein or something.

    • Grant

      Because he should be hounded out of public life entirely because of his completely toxic effects on policy discourse.

      • Linnaeus

        I wouldn’t say that. He writes some things I agree with, some I don’t. On education, I tend to disagree with him. But he’s better on many things than a lot of other writers I can think of.

    • I don’t understand this blog’s obsession with Matthew Yglesias.

      There isn’t one. There’s been a spate of posts in the past few days because of the high salience of the issue and Lil Matt’s striking ability to embody the wanker liberal, technohackic hatred of unions, esp. public unions and most especially public school teacher unions.

      Instead of making a smart move and either correcting or backing off, he’s doubled down so he’s getting pounded. That’s all.

      Because he (Matthew Yglesias) hates unions.

  • Colin

    I’m rather shocked that only one commenter made the fundamental point here: Rahm Emannuel is the elected mayor of Chicago, that’s why his opinion matters more than the teacher’s opinion. He’s the only person who was elected by a citywide vote, and thus he enjoys more legitimacy than any of the other actors.
    If he sucks at his job, the citizens of Chicago (of whom I am one) can vote him out in 2015. This is rather basic civics. Democratic accountability.

    Nobody else involved in this equation has to be re-hired every four years at the ballot box. Rahm may be a shitty mayor, but he is the city’s elected chief executive. That’s why his opinion “counts more.”

    And no, I didn’t vote for him in 2011. But I do respect how the ballot box works.

    • mds

      “We had an accountability moment, and that’s called the 2004 elections.”

      President George W. Bush
      Jan. 16, 2005

    • djw

      What is the premise here? That when elected officials and unions are at odds with each other a commitment to democracy requires us to root for the elected official to win all the policy battles?

      Unless I’m reading this all wrong, the implied premises here would seem to render all public sector unions in a democracy entirely toothless.

      • elm

        It’s the Soviet perspective on unions: when you live in a worker’s paradise, why would the workers need to unionize? Solidarity showed the lie to this sort of question begging in communist countries. I’d have thought Wisconsin would have showed the lie to the U.S. version (when the public has a democratic voice, why would public workers need to unionize?) but, alas, not.

    • This is satire right?

      If it’s not satire then it’s so bizarrely wrong I’m not sure where to start.

      • bradp

        I gotta say, the alternative that so many are moving towards is “Fuck-It Nihilism”.

        • The popular alternative to “Rahm is elected so mass movements and everyone else should suck it” is fuck-it nihilism? Really?

  • matt

    Where I work we evaluate people but I don’t simply try to make things as soft on people as possible because I value the work that gets done around here.

    Why would public education be different? Are people unconsciously buying in to the Randian stereotypes of schoolteachers as the ‘little grey men’, and women?

    • Why would public education be different?

      It isn’t. Less so, even, because lots of teachers feel a special responsibility toward children and teaching has a professionalization that encourages that feeling.

      Are people unconsciously buying in to the Randian stereotypes of schoolteachers as the ‘little grey men’, and women?

      Nope. They, like Matthew Yglesias, just hate unions.

  • Redleg

    It’s all about procedural justice, baby. The principles of procedural justice include the employee’s right to provide evidence on his/her own behalf to influence the process and have the right to appeal decisions they don’t agree with. These are aspects of what we recognize as due process.

    Many anti-union (and anti-employee) people don’t believe in due process for termination and discipline. They would have the employer rule from on high and not have to explain or be accountable for the employment decisions they make. After all, aren’t workers just another form of chattel property to be dispensed with as seen fit.

  • Redleg

    I think it’s a stretch to suggest that Rahm Emanuel, in his position as mayor, can unilaterally influence the formation or dissolution of legally binding contracts. He, or his designated representatives, are obligated to bargain in good faith rather than just impose whatever conditions they want in a labor agreement.

  • bradp

    1. I thought standardized testing accounted for 40% of the evaluation scores.

    2. When you say:

    Teacher evaluations are about power, pure and simple.

    it is obviously untrue. There are extremely compelling reasons to attempt to measure and improve teacher performance (granted addressing economic circumstances of students should be the #1 target).

    So I guess you are saying all the arguments and BS surrounding teacher evaluations are about power relations between teachers and government officials, and our course of action should be to side with our preexisting sympathies?

    • Anonymous

      Re: 1 isn’t the issue whether they are 25% or 40%? That’s part of whats under dispute.

      I think the better (though not immediately obvious perhaps) reading of the power comment is that in the current situation, actually efficacy and utility of measurement to education outcomes aren’t really driving the discussion, but the power struggle.

      • I’ll be much happier when my computer problems are sorted. This was me.

      • bradp

        I think the better (though not immediately obvious perhaps) reading of the power comment is that in the current situation, actually efficacy and utility of measurement to education outcomes aren’t really driving the discussion, but the power struggle.

        Agreed. Bijan, allow me to introduce you to government.

        • And business and academia and….

          …and not all the time, or inherently or…

          I don’t think this is the clever point that I presume you thought it was (i.e., clever enough to make a comment out of),

          • bradp

            Do you not believe that in a well-functioning market, that efficacy and utility calculations are mostly based in customer satisfaction?

            Note: This is not to say that education would ever be a well-functioning market.

            • If so, so what?

              Utility calculations require a notion of utility. Customer satisfaction is but one such notion.

              Educational outcomes are often not reflected in (short term) customer satisfaction, much less constituted by them.

    • djw

      Brad woke up on the technocratic statist side of the bed today, evidently.

      • DrDick

        Brad always wakes up on the anti-union side of the bed, especially if we are talking about public sector unions.

        • bradp

          Brad always wakes up on the anti-union side of the bed, especially if we are talking about public sector unions.

          No, I just have the absurdly naive opinion that unions derive their power from collective economic activity, rather than from desperately petitioning government officials.

      • bradp

        Brad woke up on the technocratic statist side of the bed today, evidently.

        Not at all, agnosticism in response to self-interested government agents is kinda my thing.

        Seeing a post on this site blatantly stating that some government policy is solely determined by a power struggle between interest groups, rather than the end users of the public good makes me somewhat happy.

      • bradp

        Oh wait, I didn’t mean this…

        There are extremely compelling reasons to attempt to measure and improve teacher performance (granted addressing economic circumstances of students should be the #1 target).

        to imply technocratic standardization. Just that schools have a strong reason to make sure the teachers are performing their job at an acceptable level.

        I’m not in to standardized testing all that much as an evaluation. The complaints I have heard about it being ineffective and inaccurate to a degree make sense to me.

        • djw

          Got it; my misunderstanding.

          • bradp

            No worries. After I reread it, I realized how unclear it was.

            I’m impressed you knew to call me on a comment like that.

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