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June 28, 2011


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Tsk tsk, your fairness gene seems to have been turned off. You neglected to mention that teachers in places like Lake George and Queensbury are in the bottom half of the list and get great results.

Bob Conner

Name of the blog is PlanetAlbany, not PlanetLakeGeorge or Queensbury. When, as now, the state Legislature is out of session, I'm more inclined to focus on local Albany issues -- and I mentioned the charter schools to add perspective. However, there are statewide implications, e.g. NYSUT's lawsuit to further protect teachers in districts like Albany.


I think teachers *should* be protected from being scapegoated for social "outcomes" that are beyond their control. You can set up all kinds of ridiculous correlations. The public has no logic and can therefore be manipulated so easily.

However, I'd certainly be in favor of evaluating teachers on their demonstrated grammar skills. Even for me, the soul of reason (joking), the cringemaking passage you quoted above would diminish the perceived merits of the union's complaint.


Oh, now wait a cotton-pickin' minute! I hereby retract the second paragraph of my comment just above.

From the your entry above, I thought the TU was quoting from the the complaint filed by NYSUT, but it turns out that you were quoting from the TU article. So the illiteracy was committed by the TU reporter, not by NYSUT's legal counsel or by any of the teachers who are members of any of the unions associated with NYSUT (which sometimes calls itself a union but isn't).

Bob Conner

I don't think outcomes are necessarily "beyond their control." Good teachers, curriculums, schools are more than ever needed in neighborhoods with high rates of poverty, crime and broken families -- whereas instead the latter factors are often used as an excuse by educators for their own failings.


I inferred the Albany in the title as being focused on broader state issues rather than Albany municipal issues, since that's what most of your posts are about. Sorry for the confusion.


Certainly good teachers, curricula, etc. are necessary to help ameliorate the deleterious educational effects on children of poverty and its associated (not necessarily consequential) evils, but the best schools in the world can't necessarily turn out highly successful students who come into the school seriously damaged, and continue to be damaged, by conditions and deprivations in their home and neighborhood environments.

That teachers may sometimes use the social factors that are beyond their control as excuses for their own failings in no way demonstrates that the poor "outcomes" are all or even primarily due to poor teaching. It's suspicious, don't you think--to the point of being implausible--that the highest paid teachers are accused of being the worst teachers. It's counterintuitive, which doesn't necessarily make it untrue, but then there's all the more need for the claim to be supported by a reasonable hypothesis and evidentiary proof.

I don't know Albany demographics at all, but it occurs to me that many factors need to be analyzed properly before any conclusions can be drawn about the relation (if any even exists) between teacher salary and student success. For example: Is it possible that teachers in that area are paid higher than they are in other parts of the state? Is it possible that sheer longevity, thus staying at the top of the salary range with each increase, would account for this group of teachers being the highest paid in the state? Is it possible that Albany has a higher proportion of "inner city" type students in its public schools than do other areas of the state? How might the policies and the practices of the local school board have some bearing on the situation?

I've seen some of this stuff up-close in my time, from different angles, and it ain't a pretty picture.

For example, I've seen the highest-level educator-administrators decide that children must not be exposed to vocabulary over and above the prescribed ceiling (ceiling! not floor!) for a particular grade. I've seen fraudulent manipulation of reading scores by academic evaluators of educational programs designed to improve "outcomes."

In my opinion teachers deserve a share of the blame for the truly stinking mess that is public education, but only their fair share--not the whole brunt of it. And certainly not by linking one particular set of teacher salaries and student outcomes and declaring a relation of causality between the two.

Bob Conner

Johannah, I am not "declaring a relation of causality" between high pay and lousy results, but the Albany figures indicate to me that high pay does not cause good results, and that something is going wrong with the educational process in the Albany district (since other districts with similar demographics -- and, incidentally, lower pay -- have better results).
Brian, you seem still to be saying this post is unfair and/or has purely local implications, both of which I deny.


Okay, then we agree on this: High teacher pay *per se* does not produce favorable educational results. It follows logically, of course, that lower teacher pay is not a cause, factor, or significant ingredient in the educational success of those other districts of similar demographics.

But does it really take the current state of affairs in the Albany school district to demonstrate that high pay does not produce superior results? Who believed that it does? How many ever believed the unions' propaganda about salary and class size in relation to a successful educational process?

We Catholics, including those of us who were working class or poor as children, recall having been decently educated by nuns and brothers vowed to poverty in classrooms of 30+ pupils.

Some taxpayers are understandably sick of throwing good money after bad, but they should not be encouraged to latch onto the idea that dedicated, hardworking teachers shouldn't be decently paid or that they should be in any other way scapegoated for things like shockingly low graduation rates.

Union propaganda and resentful rightwing "base" attitudes (them snotty, useless four-eyed elites who are after all my servants get too much of a cut of my money) notwithstanding, rational observers must acknowledge that pay *per se* does not have much if any bearing on the quality of teaching or on the desired outcome of the educational process, and so it does not merit consideration much less focus in the general conversation about public school education.

The floundering Albany district should be examined, as should the districts that appears to be having greater success, in an attempt to identify the factors that actually make the difference. I say that with loads of bitter skepticism in my heart because these matters have been "studied" for decades and all kinds of "innovative" educational programs have been instituted (many later to be modified or dropped) based on the conclusions of studies ranging from the scientifically well-designed to the merely anecdotally based to the politically motivated to the outright fraudulent.

The truth is that there's a social tsunami going on in this country and it impacts the most defenseless parties the most--namely, the children of people who are unable to nurture and protect them adequately. Teachers are in a position to be acutely aware of this, and when they point it out they are not making excuses.

Here's the wallpaper: We've had outright educational fakery for decades. Even professionals nowadays are semi-illiterate. We don't read books anymore. We don't know history or geography and have no understanding of geopolitical affairs. Witness recent gaffes even by presidents and presidential candidates. We have no understanding of law in practice much less the philosophy of law. We wallow in superstition and live in fantasy. We practice denial. Collectively we don't give a damn about doing much of anything right. We sneer at notions of the common weal and of collective sacrifice. More and more people are out of work or trapped forever into working 2-3 service jobs for minimum wage and no benefits including no health insurance. In these conditions of economic deprivation, political mayhem, frustration and apprehension, domestic violence increases. That's devastating for children. Our rate of incarceration is one of the highest in the world and our prison conditions are getting to be about as brutal as they are in societies we deem dark and backward. We fiddled while Detroit died.

More specifically regarding schoolchildren, I have a friend who has worked for decades as a counselor at various levels and who now coordinates the Good Shepherd homes educational program. She has told me periodically and consistently over the years (since the 1960s) that the girls coming into her agency for care are ever more grievously and profoundly wounded, in worse and worse psychological and cognitive state, from damages inflicted on them before they became subject to court-ordered placement. And these kids, she hastens to add, are the cream of the crop. These are the ones deemed most likely to respond well to the program, most likely to succeed (so to speak).

While the Mississippi River in superflood drowns homes and people and ruins farms and might yet cause nuclear disaster, the social fabric thins and rots. Some say the empire implodes. We're not confronted with these realities nor are they put to intelligent analysis and public conversation/debate because the media are too busy entertaining us with the neverending weenie show.

None of these problems can be addressed, none of these children can be rescued, assisted and educated, by comparing teacher salaries from district to district or by tweaking teacher evaluations.

The comments to this entry are closed.

This blog is by Bob (Robert C.) Conner, a longtime journalist and author of the 2018 novel "The Last Circle of Ulysses Grant" published by Square Circle Press, and a 2013 biography "General Gordon Granger" published by Casemate. He is currently writing a biography of the Kansas abolitionist Col. James Montgomery. His Civil War blog can be found at robertcconnerauthor.blogspot.com
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