Education Opinion

A Very Unlevel Playing Field

By Susan Graham — August 03, 2010 2 min read
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A week ago D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee held a press conference and stated,

Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher -- in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward, in this City. That is our commitment. Today . . . we take another step toward making that commitment a reality.

And then she proved her commitment to quality education by firing 241 teachers, including 165 who received poor appraisals under the new teacher evaluation system. It wasn’t personal; data is data, and schools must make annual yearly progress or something must be done about the teachers according to the U.S. Department of Education. Another 737 teachers who were rated “minimally effective” on measures that include student standardized test scores, have one year to improve. While Rhee declined to speculate on how many might be sacked next year, she says that over the next two years

A not-insignificant number of folks will be moved out of the system for poor performance.

Meanwhile across town, Washington Redskin coach Mike Shanahan addressed questions about his $100,000,000 lineman, Albert Haynesworth, saying,

All I can do is tell you we're going to give him every opportunity to show us what he can do. Hopefully he'll like the position that we play him in and give us everything that he's got.

The Redskins ended the ’08 season with an eight-win/eight-loss record, so they purchased the most expensive defensive lineman in history. Unfortunately, the Redskins finished the ’09 season with a four-win/12-loss record. Haynesworth was on the field in only 12 of those games and Redskins lost nine of those 12. He doesn’t like the new defensive play book, and he didn’t want to participate in any of the team’s optional professional development this summer. It’s not personal, but data is data and the team didn’t make AYP and something must be done. While somebody thought that Albert was highly qualified, it doesn’t appear he’s been highly effective; so now Hayneworth must pass a conditioning test to assess whether he is ready to practice and play. He’s been in camp for six days and so far he has failed that evaluation repeatedly. One day he had to take a potty break and today his knee hurt. However, the coaches and the trainers and the team doctors are all hopeful and helpful that, given the support he needs, Albert will be successful. When asked if Haynesworth was going to be a part of the team in 2010, Shanahan responded,

We'll see.

Meanwhile, in the New York Times, Harvard economist Raj Chetty responded to questions concerning his research on the fade out effect of early childhood education gains stating

We don't really care about test scores. We care about adult outcomes.

His research indicates that,

Students who had learned much more in kindergarten were more likely to go to college than students with otherwise similar backgrounds. Students who learned more were also less likely to become single parents. As adults, they were more likely to be saving for retirement. Perhaps most striking, they were earning more.....Mr. Chetty and his colleagues -- one of whom, Emmanuel Saez, recently won the prize for the top research economist under the age of 40 -- estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year. That's the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn't take into account social gains, like better health and less crime.

But New York Times Economic Scene reporter David Leonhardt clarifies by pointing out,

Obviously, great kindergarten teachers are not going to start making $320,000 anytime soon.

Obviously? I have to ask: What makes that obvious?

Haynesworth has collected $32 million of his $100 million contract since September 2009. The Redskins turned in their worst season since 1961 and one could argue that Haynesworth was part of the problem even if he doesn’t see it that way. As of today he is still in training camp and still on the roster even though he hasn’t yet gone on the field. If they give him the boot tomorrow, he keeps the $32 million as a consolation prize for his efforts. I like football, but it is a game, and in the end it really doesn’t much matter who wins or who loses. With the same money, our society could have purchased 10,000 of those remarkable, life changing teachers.

You don’t have to be a Harvard economist to analyze the data and assess which investment would obviously provide the greatest potential return on investment.

The opinions expressed in A Place at the Table are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.