Friday, August 28, 2009

New Journal decides to blame teachers for failures in student performance

The relevant segments from today's WNJ editorial on the Obama administration's Race to the Top [which, by the way, represents another virtual continuation of a Bush program with a few cosmetic differences]:

You may recall that George W. Bush's critics absolutely despised the emphasis put on test scores by No Child Left Behind. They said it cheapened the educational process and forced teachers to spend all their time "teaching to the test." Of course, that was just for public consumption. What really worried them was that tests -- along with the process of aggregating the data according to race -- would reveal, for all to see, the lousy job that public schools are doing in educating minority students.

Well, now, as some critics on the left have pointed out, the Race to the Top actually puts even more emphasis on those dreaded test scores than did No Child Left Behind. The Bush measure used test scores to evaluate schools; what Duncan has in mind is to use those scores to evaluate individual teachers.

It's about time. That idea is brilliant, and just what the reformers ordered. The reason many teachers resist education reform is because they want to insulate themselves from the product they turn out. Until that mentality changes, we'll never close the achievement gap or bring all students to grade-level in math and reading.

Teachers need a reality check. Those of us who work in the private sector don't have the luxury of turning out mediocre products year after year, resisting accountability and higher standards, and then demanding a raise for just showing up. Teachers shouldn't have that luxury either. They demand to be respected as professionals. Fine. Step one is to play the game by the same set of rules that the rest of us have to adhere to, and that starts with standing behind what you produce.


This is so ridiculous as to be almost beneath the contempt necessary to rebut it. But let's go through the motions.

1) There is actually near zero research data to support the vaunted idea that "assessment should drive instruction" and that high-stakes assessment is a universally good thing. Quite the contrary: there is a lot of data illustrating the harm of high-stakes testing especially in situations where teachers start the year working with already under-performing students who do not have the base skills necessary to achieve grade-level standards in a single year. High-stakes testing that does not measure individual student growth and development over a period of years [and that sort of testing is prohibitively expensive on a district-wide or state-wide scale] is a virtually meaningless indicator of teacher performance. This is especially true in a state like Delaware wherein up to 20% of the public school population in some parts of the State is enrolled in at least two different schools in every academic year. Nor does it examine the idea that people championing physician success ratings have never successfully come to grips with: the best teachers will often be assigned the least-promising students, and success there is measured one tiny footstep at a time.

2) High-stakes testing environments are the ultimate in unfunded mandates and self-fulfilling prophecies: districts with more resources and more affluent parents will always have more computers, more assistance in the classroom, more supporting textbooks, and better libraries. But when we sit down to the test, all the WNJ sees is the teacher. Who must be lazy or unprofessional if his/her students don't perform. This editorial can only have been written by someone who never spent a single day in a classroom with forty students, trying over the course of a semester to figure out some way to get diagnostic help for the two students in the back that he knows have slipped through the system with an undiagnosed learning disability. What utter crap.

But my favorite is this:

Those of us who work in the private sector don't have the luxury of turning out mediocre products year after year, resisting accountability and higher standards, and then demanding a raise for just showing up.


Aside from the fact that this is being published in a Gannett newspaper notable for its lack of detailed local coverage and cut-and-paste national news, a newspaper that survives while cutting its size and raising its price primarily because Delaware has no television station and no other statewide newspaper to compete with it, the obvious answer to this question is

General Motors. Chrysler. AIG. Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae. TARP.

There is room to criticize public school teaching practices and the lack of imagination sometimes displayed by schools and school districts. But in a State wherein the General Assembly hobbled more than a decade's worth of Delaware students with a DSTP that they knew was inappropriate and not actually measuring what it advertised, in a State wherein the application of Annual Yearly Progress in NCLB cells has actually caused schools of 400+ students to be listed as failing for the scores of 2-3 students [or, better yet, for the scores of students who never actually set foot in the building], this editorial represents a complete failure of journalism.

If you are actually going to talk about public education, high-stakes testing, and teacher performance, then you really ought to have some idea about your subject matter before you open your mouth and remove all doubt that you are an idiot.

11 comments:

Hube said...

Bravo, Steve. And I'd add to this:

Those of us who work in the private sector don't have the luxury of turning out mediocre products year after year, resisting accountability and higher standards

But those in the private sector control all (or virtually all) the factors of production. They buy parts from companies that put out good products and deliver on time, etc. If a company doesn't deliver, you ditch 'em and look elsewhere.

Not so w/public ed. Public ed. has to accept EVERYONE, "factors of production" be damned. In essence, private schools are much more akin to the private sector b/c they CAN control the "factors of production" -- they can decide who to admit and can get rid of any student for either discipline or academics. Again, not so w/public ed.

Or, consider this: Would you blame your physician if you flat-out refused to do what he told you to do to improve your condition? That's what way too many public ed. teachers face in today's world.

what Duncan has in mind is to use those scores to evaluate individual teachers.

Looks good in theory, but in practice ... what? I went tit-for tat w/Dave Sokola years ago when DE wanted to base 20% of an overall [teacher] evaluation on student test scores (the state test). He never did answer my question as to how a teacher in a subject OTHER than what is assessed on the state tests would get measured fairly. IOW, how can teachers that do not teach math or English get fairly assessed on their abilities when that is all students in DE get tested on?

I've little hassle with "pay for performance" if someone can actually figure out a rational way to do it.

Hube said...

NCLB cells has actually caused schools of 400+ students to be listed as failing for the scores of 2-3 students [or, better yet, for the scores of students who never actually set foot in the building]

Forgot to add to this -- YES, it is a TRAVESTY that NCLB is designed to label a school as "failing" if even ONE "cell" (out of up to almost FORTY cells) doesn't show progress. By "cells" I mean breakdowns of individual sections, like "special education low-income males," for example. So, a school could show test score gains in, say, 34 cells, but if ONE cell shows a decline, the entire school suffers by a negative label.

It's beyond silly.

tom said...

"Those of us who work in the private sector don't have the luxury of turning out mediocre products year after year, resisting accountability and higher standards"

Ruben Navarette Jr. must never have used a Micro$oft product. Or read the Wilmington News Journal.

Anonymous said...

Uh oh. Hube, Steve, and I all agree. Is there a weird planetary alignment today?

Let's try not to let it happen again. :)

anonone

Steve Newton said...

Hube
There is waaay to much to write about this issue even for one of my infamous "long-assed posts."

You know as well as I do that we could do reams of it.

tom said...

"General Motors. Chrysler. AIG. Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae. TARP."

These no longer count as private sector.

Freddie Mac & Fannie Mae never truly did, and the banks and insurance companies have not since the creation of the Fed, the majority of the banking & finance regulations and mandatory coverage.

please do not hold up partially nationalized, heavily subsidized, and/or oppressively regulated industries as examples of private sector mediocrity or failure even in response to this stupid editorial.

Mike W. said...

"Would you blame your physician if you flat-out refused to do what he told you to do to improve your condition? That's what way too many public ed. teachers face in today's world."

Exactly Hube. I hate to say it, but even the best teacher in the world can't help students who don't care and won't help themselves.

I went to public school and a significant portion of students fit into that category.

Anonymous said...

To clarify, this was not a TNJ editorial. It was an opinion column by Reuben Navarette.

Anonymous said...

You seem to contend that more money means better results is easy to refute. The District of Columbia has one of the highest per-student funding rates in the nation and scores near the bottom in all measurements. Utah is the opposite case. Honest teachers should not deny that there are many poor teachers out there.

sell said...

Both liberal and conservative alike have jumped on the bandwagon of blaming teachers and their "great conspiracy" to turn hard working moral children into indolent students.

Conservatives hate getting "doubled taxed"- school property tax + private school tuition. Fine, I understand- give them their money.

Liberals want to play their usual boogyman game of propping someone up as the reason for failures amongst certain low performing demographic groups. Cops are racist, teachers are lazy and self interested, companies are greedy, etc... This stuff works magic on election day. Add in the new age socialist ideaology that now permeates within American consumer driven culture where we must have what others have even if we don't deserve it or can't afford it. If we can't afford it then it must be because someone is holding back our wages for their own personal greed.

Add in a touch of American culture that embraces entertainment and scorns hard intellectual work (AND TIME COMMITMENT)and spits on the concept of personal responsibility and you have a recipe for disaster.

Solution: Teachers need to get more agressive with parents- call things for what they are instead of trying to be politically correct. Teachers need to go to WAR with school administration and the phD educrats (who were rarely classroom teachers )who forcefeed ridiculous liberalism into their classroom.

sell said...

Mike W.

With both Democrat and Republican support new Medicare reforms proposed include higher payments to those doctors who have "better patient outcomes"


The U.S. government is trying to do to doctors what they have already done to teachers.