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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.

dan.burns October 7, 2012 at 6:19 am

did you get the idea that deformers/conservatives want to create educated human beings?  (Snark – no response needed.)

Alec October 7, 2012 at 6:43 am

DuBois—I insist that the object of all true education is not to make men carpenters, it is to make carpenters men.

Booker T-At the bottom of education, at the bottom of politics, even at the bottom of religion, there must be for our race economic independence.  

give2attain October 7, 2012 at 8:58 am

It seems you are assuming that Teachers in the city (~60% poverty) and burbs(~15% poverty) will be judged by the same criteria.  Which I have not heard before and would make no sense.

However, if there are 30 Teachers in an urban area teaching 2nd grade.  It would be nice to reward the ones that regularly helped their students to learn at a faster rate than norm.  And it would be nice to help the slow folks to improve or to fire them.

Don’t we owe this to the kids?  Or do you want to keep the ineffective Teachers employed and floundering?

Alec October 7, 2012 at 10:07 am

You seem to have this narrative that there are just an overwhelming amount of bad teachers out there. Certainly no one wants bad teachers, but with all the problems in our society, “bad teachers” is probably not even in the top ten. No one is arguing about keeping bad teachers, but that is all you seem to talk about with education reform.

If you could wave a magic wand and get rid of all bad teachers, it would be great, but it would not put a dent in the achievement gap.

And yes, urban teachers, with 90%+ poverty, will be judged by the same criteria as suburban. We have been for the last 10 years.  

give2attain October 7, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I think of it as the educational community had 10 years where everyone wanted to ensure No Child Was Left Behind. And instead of using that as a battle cry to lobby for more Early Childhood education and a chance to purge their ranks of the ~3% of truly incompetent Teachers and maybe 10% of weak Teachers. They spent it complaining that the criteria was too hard and fighting for their job security rights for all.

What grade would you give a student that when given the syllabus spent the whole year compaining about it instead of working to attain the expectations that you as the Teacher had set?  Would you see them as interested in improving and learning or as not?

Yes NCLB had a totally unrealistic yet desireable long term goal, however AYP did set some pretty good short term “relative” goals.  I am not thinking we made too much improvement even compared to the initial goals.

By the way, Chicago’s new criteria only use student progress as 30% of the grading criteria and the Teachers still are fighting it.  And I have never had a public school or Teacher give out a simple class satisfaction survey, something that is common in college classes and professional training.  Are you sure they really are looking for feedback?

Since my blog talks education often, here are 3 related links.

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