Sunday, February 20, 2011

Conflating the importance of teacher quality with the ability to measure it at the individual level

Education deform roundup for February 20

1) Conflating the importance of teacher quality with the ability to measure it at the individual level. Not long ago the LA Times reported on a RAND corporation study on variation of teacher effectiveness. The study was based on an analysis of teachers in Los Angeles and found a wide variation in teacher effectiveness; however, the study, and many others, observed that it was virtually impossible to take the research to an individual teacher level - there are just too many confounding variables. Nevertheless the Times released the [meaningless on an individual level] teacher data database on its website, creating confusion among its readers and anger among the named teachers. The AFT's Shankerblog attempts to clean up the mess in a post titlted  Value-Added: Theory Versus Practice:
This overall variation is a very important finding, but for policy purposes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we can differentiate between the good, the bad, and the average at the level of individual teachers. How we should do so is an open question. Conflating the importance of teacher quality with the ability to measure it carries the risk of underemphasizing all the methodological and implementation details – such as random error, model selection, and data verification – that will determine whether value-added plays a productive role in education policy. These details are critical, and way too many states and districts, like the Los Angeles Times, actually seem to be missing the trees for the forest.
2) Dubious Standards for Charter Schools. A new report on six charter schools done by the New York City's Department of Education (DOE) shows, according to one writer, “most of the schools are neglecting basic elements of decent education, yet in no case were they punished for this, or pressured to change their ways,” and that “critical thinking was missing from several schools.” At one Bronx school, characterized by the report as “academically successful”
“Teachers' questions asked mainly for recall of information...Students' responses were generally one or two words...Students did not discuss or share ideas...There was no evidence of analysis, evaluation, or providing students with the opportunity to create a new product or defend a point of view.”
The report concluded that “Some of the key skills necessary for college success were not observed in classrooms.” Students at one charter high school studied reported that students were never required to read novels or book-length non-fiction. The longest reports they had written were three to four pages. Though parents complained about verbally abusive discipline and high rates of detention at one of the charter schools, nothing was done about it.

3) Education deform caused racial disparity, "two tier" system, and segregation in Chicago. A University of Illinois Chicago study on the school changes enacted by current Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Democratic mayor Daley found that Black and Latino students have “disproportionately experienced a string of punitive and destabilizing policies” including “'drilling'’’ for standardized tests, being forced to repeat a grade, school closures and high teacher turnover,” and that the "successful" schools cited by the deformers and traditional media are " three times whiter and three times less poor than the system as a whole and only serve a small slice of kids."

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