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Biggest Plank in Modern Reform is Bad for Students

by Alec on October 7, 2012 · 5 comments

       Think of modern education reform, or Rhee-form, or deform, as being a three legged stool, bellying up to the bar of privatization. The legs include taking away teacher’s due process rights and dismantling unions, increasing privately run schools through publicly funded charters, and focusing on student test scores to make high stakes hiring and firing decisions.  

    All three legs are pretty rickety.  I would like to focus on that third leg, using test scores for high stakes hiring and firing decisions. Modern reformers want to turn this leg into a debate about whether teachers should be evaluated. It makes it easy to win, but it is a lie on their part. Teachers welcome evaluation. Teachers want feedback in order to get better. We just don’t want evaluations that are bad for our profession, and therefore bad for students. Just because teachers do not want Rhee-valuation, does not mean we don’t want evaluation.

     If we want the best teachers to work in the toughest schools, punishing them for doing it is not the way forward.  Our preeminent research institution, the National Academies, have warned against using testing for firing and hiring decisions.  Even the testing company themselves have warned against using tests for rating teachers.

     With even close inspection, the reasoning is obvious. For example, local lawyer and former DFL Senate candidate Mike Ciresi has said that Democrats who voted against modern reform “lacked courage”. Apparently it is brave to fight for A.L.E.C. proposed legislation, but cowardly to side with the National Academies of Research. Think about it like this. What if Mike assigned his best lawyer in the firm the most difficult cases with all the evidence and odds against them. Then he assigned all the piece of cake cases to his weakest lawyer. Chances are, the weakest lawyer might actually have a better record, get the bigger bonus, and would actually keep their job. Is the public defender who takes on death row cases less of a lawyer than the corporate lawyer who gets Lehman Brothers off?
        We are just now starting to see the consequences to students because of this obsession with test scores. The idea that it is “cowardly” to side with research is the biggest problem in this debate. This article explains it beautifully.  

However, factors other than the teacher account for roughly 85-90% of the variation in students’ test scores. Teachers account for only 10-15% of the variance in scores

The modern reformers have a credo that places all the blame on teachers. They like to tell us that, “If we ignore every single factor that affects students, except teachers, then anything bad that happens is all the fault of teachers.” Can you argue with that logic?

     The very company that scores teachers, The American Institute of Research, says not to use test scores.  They point out that as the percent of students with disabilities increases, test gains decrease.  I am trying to see how this is not obvious to modern reformers. Urban schools have a much, much higher percentage of children with disabilities, which makes improvement gains more difficult. Oddly, do you know who has almost no children with disabilities? Charter Schools don’t really serve many disabilities. Still they are twice as likely to underperform traditional schools, but I digress towards a different leg of modern reform. See the most extensive study on Charters here.

I predict that when the state results are made public, you will see a disproportionate amount of teachers of students with serious learning disabilities and teachers in schools with high levels of poverty labeled ineffective on scores. And that label will be unfair.

And here is the punch line and bottom line ladies and gentlemen:

It is not cowardly to stand up to modern reform because it is bad for kids. The market model, that often doesn’t even work well in the market, really fails when trying to create educated human beings.

Over time, the students who need the best teachers and principals will see them leave their schools in order to escape the ‘ineffective’ label.

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