The New York Times checks in with State Farm!


How to improve public schools: In this morning’s New York Times, Motoko Rich discusses a plan to lure top college grads into teaching careers.

There’s nothing wrong with that idea. We do get a little bit nervous when we read it hyped in the way we highlight below.

This is how Rich begins her report, hard-copy headline included:
RICH (11/21/13): Campaign Seeks to Recruit Top Students to Become Teachers

If you can’t do, teach. The three best things about teaching? June, July and August.

With so much teacher bashing, who in the world would want to teach?

Seeking to combat such sentiments, the Department of Education—in partnership with the Advertising Council, Microsoft, State Farm Insurance, Teach for America, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions and several other educational groups—is unveiling a public service campaign this week aimed at recruiting a new generation of classroom educators.
Is it just us, or does that highlighted passage seem strange? The Department of Education is unveiling this plan in partnership with Microsoft, State Farm Insurance and the Advertising Council?

Everyone knows that Microsoft now rules the world of education. That said, what in the world does State Farm Insurance have to do with public school issues?

Would you turn to “the good hands people” to figure out the best way to run schools? (We know, we know—that's Allstate.) The notion doesn’t seem to faze Rich, whose work has begun to strike us as a possible parody of some kind:
RICH: “The challenge is to change the conversation around teaching so that it becomes the career that you want your child to go into,” said Kathy Payne, senior director of education leadership at State Farm, “rather than the career that you counsel children out of.”


Many teachers have complained that what they see as an overemphasis on testing has stymied teacher creativity. But Cliff Skeete, group creative director at McGarryBowen, an advertising agency that donated its time to develop the video and radio ads, said testing and creativity are not mutually exclusive.

“If you find different ways to communicate with and teach kids, where it’s not just that same old thing, using a video game or projecting the solar system in the classroom,” Mr. Skeete said, “that’s what’s going to get those test scores raised.”
Question: Why does State Farm, an insurance company, have a “senior director of education leadership?” If you read the New York Times, you aren’t supposed to ask.

Within the context of this report, it’s odd enough to be quoting someone who serves in the post of “senior director of education leadership at State Farm.” But why would anyone quote the creative director at McGarryBowen, an ad agency, about the best way to understand the current profusion of testing?

Is Rich a satirist of some kind? If so, we apologize for our previous complaints about her peculiar reporting.

We offer one other note about this new campaign. In this passage, Arne Duncan makes it fairly clear where the idea comes from:
RICH: Taylor Mali, a poet and a former teacher, provides the inspirational voice-over that evokes some military recruitment ads. “Teachers today are breaking down obstacles,” he says, “finding innovative ways to instill old lessons, proving that greatness can be found in everyday places.”

The retirement of baby boomers creates an “amazing chance to make a difference for decades to come,” said Arne Duncan, secretary of education, in a telephone interview.

In addition to recruiting more candidates with science and math backgrounds, Mr. Duncan said, the nation’s public schools need to attract more Hispanics and blacks, particularly men, to teaching. Citing the model of several countries where students regularly score high on standardized tests, Mr. Duncan said that they pull their teaching corps from the top tenth to top third of college graduates. He said he wanted to persuade “very, very high caliber college graduates to come and work in our nation’s schools.”
If teaching is such a wondrous profession, why is the inspirational Mali a former teacher?

Levity to the side, Duncan is plainly evoking miraculous Finland, which famously draws its teachers from the top third of its college graduates.

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with seeking to copy this practice. We’ll assume it would be a good thing to attract stronger students into teaching, especially at the high school level.

That said, a lot of our biggest problems are found in elementary schools which serve low-income kids from low-literacy backgrounds. Would our problems in those schools be solved by attracting teachers with stronger academic records?

We wouldn’t feel real sure about that. And you can’t answer such questions in Finland, which has very little poverty and never created an educational “underclass” in the way our country did, down through the several centuries.

Finland is said to recruit its teachers from the top third of its college class. We assume the Finns have lots of outstanding teachers and lots of outstanding schools.

On the other hand, is it possible that Finland’s educational success has been somewhat overrated? Tomorrow, in a special “Ripples” report, we’ll show you how the 2011 TIMSS scores look after “disaggregation.”

How might we improve the schools which serve our low-income, low-literacy kids? We have some basic ideas about that.

But has anybody checked with State Farm? How about other ad agencies?

Tomorrow: Finland, the U.S. and TIMSS


  1. In addition to recruiting top students to become teachers, thought should be given to retaining these people after they become teachers. My daughter and son-in-law both gave up tenured teaching positions at San Mateo HS. (I think that might be Bob's alma mater.) In my daughter's case, I think she wasn't well-suited for HS teaching. However, my son-in-law got frustrated, in part because of administrative sh*t. I think the old book Up the Down Staircase gives a good picture of why competent people leave the teaching profession.

    I think it's ironic that the Dept. of Education is leading to charge to recruit more top teachers. IMHO a plethora of federal regulations is a big reason why teaching in public school can be so frustrating. I think the best thing the Dept. of Education could do is less.

    1. DAinCA,

      Playing hooky again, I see. Don't you have some homework on 2013 ACA waivers to do?

      Hand that in and then we can talk about all those federal agents roaming the halls at San Mateo High (Go Bearcats!) making your hapless inlaws fill out unnecessary forms.

    2. My favorite part about this is that DinC is against strong teachers unions, meaning that he is in favor of further empowering the very administrators responsible for the "administrative sh*t" that forced his daughter and son-in-law out of the profession.

    3. What specific "federal regulations" caused consternation in your son-in-law, DinC?

      To be sure, there are some seriously stupid administrators in public schools. And sadly, too many of them are superintendents.

      But don't pin the blame of the feds for what local dummies do.

  2. If insurance companies are to play a more significant role in education, does that mean future teachers will be more like Flo, that reassuring Powell-esque black man, or the talking gekko?

    1. I would have enjoyed the streaking "Mayhem" guy as a homeroom teacher.

  3. People who go into teaching are idealistic and do respond to inspirational messages, but they also worry about how to pay bills, buy a house and support a family. Unless the insecurities of teaching in public schools are addressed you aren't going to recruit the top students no matter what the pitch. They know they won't make any money, will be highly likely to be laid off, will have to work in a resource-starved environment, and will be measured by how well their students do, not what they themselves do in the classroom. That doesn't sound like a very good deal, like a profession with good long term prospects. At least some of the turnover is because idealistic young people devote a few years when they are single and then must settle down and make some real money when they take on family responsibilities.

    If you are thinking "But teachers make pretty good money, medians of $80,000-120,000 in some districts," think about it. That only seems like good money if you don't compare it to what people in other professions with master's degrees (required for bigger bucks) and decades of experience typically make. And remember that teachers are not paid for the summer months during which they are laid off. How would you pay your bills if you had a mandatory 3 month unpaid vacation every year?

    Prospective teachers are not so stupid that they will be enticed into teaching by an ad campaign when nothing has changed about the realities on the ground.

  4. I hate to tell TFA and the NYTimes but this is a WILDLY elitist view, that teaching is not a solid or desirable career. I live in a solidly working class rural area and teachers are still respected. No one here is "counseled out" of teaching.
    The cluelessness is just astounding. You know what this is? It's PAROCHIAL. They would hate it if that term was applied to them, but it's true.
    In certain circles in DC and NY teaching is a crappy career that no self-respecting person would pursue. That is NOT true in the rest of the country.
    This will INSULT our teachers. They were not aware that their profession sucked so bad.

  5. FYI, “You’re in good hands” is All State’s slogan – not State Farm’s.
    More to the point, after being a policy holder and member (State Farm is a mutual benefit corporation) for over 30 years, I cancelled all my State Farm policies several years ago when they refused to end their association with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
    Like many “mutual benefit corporations,” State Farm has been taken over by its executives and governing board who now consider it their fiefdom. Unsurprisingly, they divert its assets, which ought to be used to the benefit of the policy holders and actual owners, to their own ends, which are mostly extreme right wing causes.
    In that light, their support of organizations that seek to undermine free public education is barely worth a yawn.

  6. Motoko went to Yale (so did Dubya). Julia Ryan (the Atlantic) to Harvard. The "talented" Amanda Ripley to Cornell. THESE too are examples of the "best and brightest."

    And what they've given us ain't hardly worth a pig in a poke.

  7. The “new” thing in education “reform” is the Common Core. It is largely the work of three main groups, Achieve, ACT, and College Board. Toss in the Education Trust. All of these groups are tied tightly to corporate-style "reform."

    Achieve, Inc.'s board includes Louis Gertner, who's bad-mouthed public education for decades. It also includes Tennessee Republican governor Bill Haslam, a pro-life, anti-gay, corporate friendly politician. The board also includes Prudential executive (and former big banker) Mark Grier (Prudential has been fined multiple times for deceptive sales practices and improper trading), and Intel CEO Craig Barrett (who keeps repeating the STEM "crisis" myth). Intel has laid off thousands of workers and is masterful and aggressive at avoiding tax payments and seeking subsidization, much like Boeing, and Microsoft, and GE, and IBM, and Chevron, and AT & T. These are some of the biggest tax cheaters in the country. There’s a reason that Achieve’s main publications never mention democratic citizenship as a mission of public education.

    Achieve's funders include – not surprisingly - Boeing, Intel, GE, IBM, Chevron, JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, Prudential (and State Farm, MetLife and other insurance companies), and the Gates Foundation. The Education Trust is funded by MetLife, State Farm, IBM, and by the Broad, Gates and Walton Foundations, among others.

    The "leaders" at the College Board include president David Coleman, who was instrumental in writing the Common Core standards, and who was a former McKinsey consultant and treasurer of disgraced former DC chancellor Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst. It includes policy chief Stefanie Sanford, former policy director for Texas Governor Rick Perry and “director of advocacy” for the Gates Foundation. It includes assessment chief Cyndie Schmeiser, who is now in charge of the PSAT, SAT, and AccuPlacer (worthless academic measures), and who was previously the chief operating officer at ACT. And it includes Amy Wilkins, formerly of the Education Trust.

    Slide on over to charlatan Wendy Kopp’s Teach for America, and one finds that the big contributors are the right-wing Arnold Foundation (which wants to privatize public pensions), the arch-conservative Kern Foundation (which even wants to inculcate ministers into the belief that unregulated “free enterprise” is a “moral system”), the Broad and Gates and Walton Foundations, Cisco, State Farm, and big banks –– Bank of America, Barclays, Credit Suisse, Wells Fargo –– that have paid billions and billions in penalties and fines (with a very hefty dose yet to come) for ripping off consumers and rigging “markets.”

    All of these people and groups tout the importance of “transformative reform” and merit pay for teachers, They all recite the same jargon, and they all seem to believe that teachers (especially those deemed the “best and brightest”) hold the key to restoring American “economic competitiveness,” which is the foundational rationale for the Common Core. It’s all unmitigated foolishness. Nonsense.

    And yet, it attracts big cash (tax deductible, don’t you know), and it gets hyped by people like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein and Eric Hanushek, and it all gets reported by the Motoko Riches and Amanda Ripleys and Emily Richmonds of the press.