Posted in the Washington Post at 03:00 AM ET, 01/21/2012
NCLB waivers: The devil is in the details
This was written by Jack Hassard, professor emeritus of science education at Georgia State University and a former high school teacher. He is the author of these books: The Whole Cosmos Catalog of Science , Science Experiences , Adventures in Geology , The Art of Teaching Science (2009), and most recently, Science As Inquiry . Specialities include science teaching & learning, global thinking & education, geology, web publishing, blogging, writing, and antiquing. This essay was originally posted at his blog, The Art of Teaching Science, and on Anthony Cody’s Living in Dialogue blog at Education Week Teacher.
By Jack Hassard
The U.S. Department of Education wants to insure that every teacher in the United States is evaluated on the basis on student progress on high-stakes achievement tests. To achieve this, the DOE will issues waivers on some aspects of No Child Left Behind in exchange for a state-wide system to evaluate teachers using tests. In this post I provide details and opinions on this development.
Waivers In the News The NCLB waivers have become a newsworthy item. Here are links to a few articles published recently.
Waiver ties teacher evaluation to test scores, was the title of an article in Atlanta Journal-Constitution on January 10.
In Education Week, James Cavanagh wrote a piece entitled Some States Skeptical of NCLB Waivers.
Will NCLB Waivers Reverse Narrowing of the Curriculum? an article in Education Week
Huffington Post reported: No Child Left Behind Waivers may be too expensive, State officials say
ESEA Flexibility Requests
This all started when 11 states had asked for waivers, after the DOE announced they would offer a "flexibility package" from some provisions of No Child Left Behind, especially ones the states felt they couldn't reach by the target dates set by NCLB. States submitted what is called an ESEA Flexibility Request. This link will take you to a Word document which spells out exactly what should be in the request, and how it should be organized. It's really a template that all states must use to get the waiver.
Here are links to ESEA Flexibility Requests received so far: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana , Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Tennessee each submitted a request for ESEA Flexibility on November 14, 2011. You can read the entire request for each of these states by following the links to the states.
Flexibility is asking and spelling out the waivers that each state requests, and then assuring that they will meet the principles identified by the DOE.
Principles Exchanged for Waivers I downloaded the 249 page Georgia Flexibility Report to find out what really is in these reports, and why some states are all for them, and why some states are very skeptical of the NCLB waivers. My comments in this section are based on an examination of the Georgia report. I live in Georgia, and am professor emeritus of science education at Georgia State University, and have had more than 30 years of experience in education in Georgia.
Georgia was a Race to the Top (RttT) winner, and has had a head start on the principles that are described below that they must implement and meet in order to get waivers on NCLB.
There are three principles that all states who request a waiver must adopt. They must detail how they will develop, and implement each of these principles in all schools by 2017. Examination of the principles exposes the sheer weight of bureaucratic rules, high-stakes tests, teacher evaluation measures, and the inordinate number of officials controlling public education far from the day-to-day lives of students and teachers.
Principle 1: Adopt College and Career Ready Standards College and career ready standards means that the state will adopt the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and reading/language arts. In Georgia's case the GaDOE is partnering with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to support the "transition" to the Common Core State Standards. The state agrees to develop and administer annual, statewide, aligned, high-quality assessments that measure student growth.
The Common Core State Standards, which were written by Achieve, Inc., have been adopted by most states. Achieve is busy at work writing the new Science Standards, and they no doubt will be adopted by all states. But, keep in mind that Achieve is also writing the tests based on these sets of national standards, and so down the road, we will see a set of national tests. And, it doesn't matter where students live, they all must live up to this single of standards in each curriculum area.
Principle 2: State-Developed Differentiated Recognition, Accountability and Support This is a big one. The state agrees to provide meaningful information about school performance, student achievement and graduation rates, closes gaps for all schools across the state, and targets schools that need help. Priority schools (the lowest performing), and Focus schools (schools that contribute to the achievement gap) will be targeted. Reward school — you guessed it, a school that has exceptional performance. There is even a plan to compensate high performing schools.
One of the sub-principles driving each state is setting performance standards for high school and elementary/middle schools. To do this, the states (at least as shown in the Georgia proposal) use a prescribed formula to get to the Performance Targets in 2017. Here is the formula or algorithm that Georgia uses to determine annual growth that school must meet in each subject area.
Annual Growth = (100% - 2011 Proficiency Rate)/6
As an example in high school biology in Georgia, the annual growth would be: 100% - 69.1 = 30.9/6 = 5.15. 69.1 was the 2011 proficiency rate. So, if you are teaching biology in Georgia, proficiency rates must increase by 5.15 so that by 2017, the rate will be 84. It seems to me that this kind of thinking urges teachers to teach to the test to make sure that their students can answer correctly the questions on the high-stakes bubble tests. There is no theory underlying the notion of annual growth, and how these scores relate to the research in the learning sciences.
Go to any state department of education website in the United States and you will find a treasure trove of data on student test scores by year, content area, grade level and school. At the Assessment page on the Georgia Department of Education website you will find endless Excel data tables by grade level, subject area, and school which you can download. Principle 3: Supporting Effective Instruction and Leadership (Guidelines for Principal and Teacher Evaluation)
This principle is the one that is being picked up in newspapers, and on blogs around the country. Fundamentally, it means that teacher and administrator evaluation will be tied in some way to student progress on achievement tests. Using student progress on achievement test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness is riddled with problems, and inconsistencies. The tests themselves are developed by testing corporations that have little or no vested interest in the local school and its curriculum, students, teachers, or parents. The decisions being made are far removed from communities that make up the school districts, and collectively are the building blocks of the state education system. Everything that is being done is from the top-down by bureaucrats who once were part of local schools, but have moved to central command centers in the state capitals of the U.S., and from their vantage points, look out, and make decisions for thousands of students and teachers.
Here is a multiple choice question for you to consider: DEM, LEM, and TEM are:
a. Nicknames for the latest X-Box game superheroes
b. Abbreviations for newly discovered planets outside the solar system
c. Names of three new political parties in the State of Georgia
d. Acronyms for Georgia's system wide approach to effectiveness and accountability
Well. How did you do? The answer is "d," and you can find these terms in charts and discussions in the State of Georgia's first proposal for the Race to the Top competitionand in the Georgia ESEA Flexibility Request. A DEM is the acronym for District Effectiveness Measure; LEM is the acronym for Leader Effectiveness Measure; and TEM — you guessed it, is the acronym for Teacher Effectiveness Measure. All of these measures will have a significant student growth component, and of course the state will develop a "establish a clear and transparent approach to measuring student growth." Now, if you believe this, I'll sell you a bridge! You can read more about this here.
Summing Up I have read Georgia's Race to the Top grant proposal and the Flexibility Request. What have we done? We've lost our way in the world of reform led by people who know very little about the lived world of students and teachers. To improve schooling, reform has to be led from the ground up by educators working at local levels.
I rigorously object to the Race to the Top, to the notion of college and career ready standards, and the use of high-stakes tests for making life changing decisions about students, teachers and administrators. I've written much on this, and I have summarized research and analysis in two eBooks that are available here: Achieving a New Generation of Science Standards The Enigma of High-Stakes Testing in Science
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Darling-Hammond: Why Is Congress redlining our schools?
By Valerie Strauss
This was written by Stanford University Education Profession Linda Darling-Hammond, who directs the Stanford University Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and was founding director of the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future. A former president of the American Educational Research Association, Darling-Hammond focuses her research, teaching, and policy work on issues of school restructuring, teacher quality and educational equity. This first appeared in the Jan. 30, 2012, issue of The Nation .
By Linda Darling-Hammond
Redlining was the once-common practice in which banks would draw a red line on a map — often along a natural barrier like a highway or river — to designate neighborhoods where they would not invest. Stigmatized and denied access to loans and other resources, redlined communities, populated by African-Americans and other people of color, often became places that lacked businesses, jobs, grocery stores and other services, and thus could not retain a thriving middle class. Redlining produced and reinforced a vicious cycle of decline for which residents themselves were typically blamed.
Today a new form of redlining is emerging. If passed, the long-awaited Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, better known in its current form as No Child Left BEhind) would build a bigger highway between low-performing schools serving high-need students — the so-called “bottom 5 percent”— and all other schools. Tragically, the proposed plan would weaken schools in the most vulnerable communities and further entrench the problems — concentrated poverty, segregation and lack of human and fiscal resources — that underlie their failure.
Although the current draft of the law scales back some of the worst overreaches of No Child Left Behind, the sanctions for failing to make “adequate yearly progress” that have threatened all schools under NCLB are now focused solely on the 5 percent of schools designated as lowest-performing by the states. As we have learned in warm-up exercises offered by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, these schools will nearly always be the ones serving the poorest students and the greatest numbers of new immigrants. In many states they will represent a growing number of apartheid schools populated almost entirely by low-income African-American and Latino students in our increasingly race- and class-segregated system.
In the new vision for ESEA, these schools, once identified, will be subjected to school “turnaround” models that require the schools to be closed, turned into charters, reconstituted (by firing nearly half the staff) or “transformed,” according to a complicated set of requirements that include everything from instructional reforms to test-based teacher evaluation. The proposed array of punitive sanctions, coupled with unproven reforms, will increasingly destabilize schools and neighborhoods, making them even less desirable places to work and live and stimulating the flight of teachers and families who have options.
Meanwhile, the most important solutions for these students and their schools are ignored by NCLB and the proposed new bill, as well as by current federal policy in general, leaving their most serious problems unaddressed.
There is no plan in the current or proposed ESEA or in other federal legislation to stem the rapid slide of families into poverty, homelessness and food insecurity; to address the inequitable distribution of state and local funds to schools; to improve teaching and learning conditions in underfunded, high-poverty schools; or to recruit and train expert teachers who will stay in these schools and stop the revolving door of untrained novices who leave children further behind. There are no significant investments in training to better prepare teachers to teach new English learners, students with disabilities and others with a range of needs.
There is no major investment in preschool or in wraparound services that will address the many needs of children for extended learning time, healthcare and social services so they can learn. While a recent Race to the Top initiative offers some preschool funding, it is minuscule in relation to the need and will not make up for the huge cuts in these services occurring in communities across the country. (After widespread cuts, preschool spending at the end of 2010 stood at almost $700 per pupil less than in 2001. Meanwhile, state cuts to education spending reached more than $7.5 billion this year on top of $3 billion in cuts last year.)
It’s not as though we don’t know what works. We could implement the policies that have reduced the achievement gap and transformed learning outcomes for students in high-achieving nations where government policies largely prevent childhood poverty by guaranteeing housing, healthcare and basic income security. These same strategies were substantially successful in our own nation through the programs and policies of the war on poverty and the Great Society, which dramatically reduced poverty, increased employment, rebuilt depressed communities, invested in preschool and K-12 education in cities and poor rural areas, desegregated schools, funded financial aid for college and invested in teacher training programs that ended teacher shortages. In the 1970s teaching in urban communities was made desirable by the higher-than-average salaries, large scholarships and forgivable loans that subsidized teacher preparation, and by the exciting curriculum and program innovations that federal funding supported in many city school districts.
These efforts led to big improvements in achievement and attainment from the ’60s through the ’80s. The black-white reading gap shrank by two-thirds for 17-year-olds, black high school and college graduation rates more than doubled, and, in 1975, rates of college attendance among whites, blacks and Latinos reached parity for the first and only time before or since.
Almost all the programs described above were ended or shrunk in the ’80s, targets of the Reagan revolution, which systematically sought to dismantle federal supports for urban and rural development, housing, social services and education. Poverty and homelessness increased sharply. As the federal education budget was cut in half, funding for urban and poor rural schools declined precipitously, desegregation aid was discontinued and teaching supports were reduced, leading to growing shortages when teacher demand increased in the late 1980s. Despite some modest pushback during the Clinton years, the momentum toward increasing inequality was not reversed.
How Educational Redlining Works
The racial and economic segregation that sets the stage for redlining is now firmly in place. One in four American children lives in poverty, nearly 60 percent more than in 1974, and the number of people living in severe poverty has reached a record high. A national study released in 2009 found that one in 50 children in America is homeless and living in a shelter, motel, car, shared housing, abandoned building, park or orphanage. The proportions in some school districts exceed one in ten, and the number is growing rapidly.
Furthermore, this poverty is concentrated in increasingly resegregated communities and schools. More than 70 percent of black and Latino students attend predominantly minority schools, and nearly 40 percent attend intensely segregated schools, where more than 90 percent of students are minority and most are poor.
Poverty rates make a huge difference in student achievement. Few people are aware, for example, that in 2009 US schools with fewer than 10 percent of students in poverty ranked first among all nations on the Programme for International Student Achievement tests in reading, while those serving more than 75 percent of students in poverty scored alongside nations like Serbia, ranking about fiftieth.
The schools identified as low-performing not only serve a growing underclass of impoverished families; they also typically do so with fewer state and local dollars per pupil than wealthier districts around them. Unlike high-achieving nations that fund their schools centrally and equally, most American states spend three times more on their wealthiest schools than they do on their poorest.
In California, for example, urban school districts often spend less than the state average although their children have the greatest needs. With inadequate budgets, crumbling buildings, class sizes of more than 30 (in some cases nearing 50) and not enough desks or books, many schools serving the neediest students have long ago canceled art, music and physical education, shut down libraries and fired librarians, nurses and counselors. They have lost reading specialists, science teachers and school psychologists. As they suffer cut after cut while they seek to meet the needs of children who are often hungry and homeless as well as shortchanged in terms of educational opportunities, these schools must decide how they will underserve their students, not whether they will.
These disparities in school funding also lead to disparities in salaries and working conditions, which create shortages of qualified personnel in high-need districts. A recent study found that in California and New York, for example, the highest-spending districts offer salaries more than twice as high as those in the lowest-spending districts. Even within a single region, the average teacher in high-poverty Oakland earned $54,000 in 2009 while her counterpart in wealthy Portola Valley (home to Silicon Valley industrialists) earned $89,000. Nationally, teachers in low-poverty districts earn one-third more at the top of the salary range than those in high-poverty districts. And the teachers who work in the neediest communities also manage larger classes with fewer books, materials and supports of all kinds.
These disparities are greatest across districts, but they are exacerbated further within most large districts, where resources are unequally distributed. It is no surprise then that the Education Department recently reported that schools serving mostly African-American students are twice as likely to have teachers with only one or two years of experience than schools in the same district serving mostly white students. Because they are less experienced and educated, teachers at schools with more Latino and African-American students are paid $2,500 less on average than teachers in the district as a whole.
Now comes the federal government to announce that such schools — where students score lower on tests than in more advantaged communities — should be labeled as failing and threatened with closure or staff firings. This makes educational redlining official. The federal share of less than 10 percent of school budgets is a tiny drop in the bucket, and far from enough to tip the scales that are so dramatically out of balance. Not only is there no plan in federal law to tackle poverty, segregation or the massive state and local underfunding of these schools; the plans embodied in Senate ESEA proposals are likely to undermine these communities even further.
How Federal Policy Can Make Things Worse
Today, NCLB — and plans to replace it — deliver primarily on the promise of more tests and sanctions. New proposals would focus the law’s punishments even more pointedly on schools in high-need communities and on educators who are willing to serve in these schools, where they earn lower salaries, teach larger classes, deal with more stress and spend longer hours than those who work in more affluent schools. This passes for accountability in America. It is also a recipe for educational redlining.
The test-and-punish approach to school reform has already made it more difficult for schools labeled as failing to attract and retain well-qualified educators — thus, ironically, reducing the quality of education for students still further. Rather than increasing the incentives and supports for teaching in high-need schools, recent federal policy has encouraged states to lower standards for prospective teachers, despite evidence that doing so increases teacher attrition and reduces student achievement. Blaming teachers for the ills of high-need schools lets policy-makers off the hook and keeps the more fundamental problems of severe poverty, a tattered safety net and inequitable funding under the rug.
Instead of making long-term investments in these communities, the strategies promoted in Race to the Top and the current proposals for ESEA will cordon off “failing” public schools and seek to close, replace or reconstitute them, or use them to experiment with high-risk reforms like for-profit educational management firms.
These approaches have a dubious track record. Many reconstitutions — where staff are fired and replaced — have resulted in a less qualified teaching staff and lower achievement after the reform. The largest national studies of charters have found that while some are highly successful, most are more likely to underperform than to outperform district-run schools serving similar students. Moreover, the fact that charters enroll fewer English learners and special education students makes it difficult to compare their performance with that of other public schools.
The school replacement strategy is far from a panacea. An independent evaluation of Chicago’s Renaissance initiative — which aimed to replace 100 schools with redesigned schools, charters and “contract schools” run by entrepreneurs — found that the achievement of students in the new schools had not improved relative to comparison students and that both groups continued to be very low-performing. Meanwhile, the disruptions to communities were severe. Many students were shipped out to distant schools, creating long, dangerous travel conditions; others were not accepted by the new schools; and still others dropped out when their schools were closed. An effort to launch another round of closings and turnarounds led to vehement public protests that closed down a school board meeting in December. “We see through the sound bites. You have betrayed the public trust!” one protester yelled. “You have failed Chicago’s children.”
More troubling, pressure to raise test scores has led many schools to exclude students who are hardest to teach, either by structuring admissions so that low-achieving students and those with special needs are unlikely to be admitted, or by creating conditions under which they are speedily encouraged to leave. In Houston a study documented a slew of strategies by which schools rid themselves of struggling students. In the brave new world of New Orleans, composed almost entirely of charter schools, the Southern Poverty Law Center had to sue because disabled students could not get access to public education.
Excluding low-scoring students from public schools gets scores up, but it expands the school-to-prison pipeline, which has quadrupled over the past thirty years, along with corrections costs, which now threaten to devour funds that should be spent on education. Most inmates are functionally illiterate and high school dropouts. In a devil’s bargain, the public spends as much as $50,000 a year to incarcerate young men on whom it would not spend $10,000 a year for a decent education.
The truth is that the competitive market approach leaves the most vulnerable children behind. It is impossible to punish schools that are struggling without punishing the children they serve. When schools are closed, it is the students and families who suffer the chaos and confusion. And if teaching and leadership positions in high-need communities become even more unappealing as a result of such policies, educators with options will be even less willing to come to or stay in these schools, leaving students and their schools with an even more inexperienced and transient teaching force. This is not a strategy that promises great wins for these students or for the nation.
What We Should Do Instead
We need a new approach to federal policy that makes it possible for all students to succeed and creates the momentum we need to regain our status as an educational leader among nations. The new ESEA must be better than what we’ve had for the past 10 years — especially for the low-income communities it was intended to serve. To make this happen, Congress and the administration must think differently about the ends and the means of reform.
First, we need to recognize that the growing income gap, unemployment and poverty must be addressed if we are to close the education gap and maintain a stable democratic society. The Occupy movement is beginning to reawaken awareness of how much social inequities have grown in the past thirty years, but few are aware of how intolerable the situation has become in the most marginalized communities. As socioeconomic segregation has increased, policy-makers and pundits are ever more buffered from direct knowledge of how the other half lives.
Although it is not fashionable to say so, we desperately need a jobs bill that will allow all those who want and need to work to take on the many jobs that need doing in America, and we need a major anti-poverty program that will eliminate childhood poverty in the richest nation on earth. The goods bought and the taxes paid by Americans with jobs will be the most important corrective for our lagging economy, and the stability and dignity this provides for families is the most important foundation for children and their learning.
Second, we must finally address the outrageous disparities in school funding that set us apart from other industrialized nations. To help students reach the new, rigorous Common Core standards that states have developed, we must create common resource standards — and incentives to meet them. This should include benchmarks for early childhood education, well-qualified teachers, high-quality curriculums and equitable instructional resources. Consider the nearly 500,000 high school students who want to go to college but, according to the Education Department, do not have access to algebra 2 classes, and the more than 2 million who have no access to calculus classes.
It’s not fair to expect students to meet equally high standards if we do not provide them with equal opportunity to succeed. The ESEA should tie standards for equal educational opportunity to standards for learning: indicators of learning opportunities — the availability of qualified teachers, appropriate courses, materials and equipment, and necessary services — should be published alongside test results, and states should be expected to show evidence of progress toward resource equalization along with evidence of learning.
Third, we should equalize learning opportunities outside school, including high-quality preschool education and enriched summer learning opportunities for all students. A major study at Johns Hopkins University found that one-third of the achievement gap between affluent and poor high school students is present at the start of first grade, and two-thirds occurs because of summer learning loss for low-income students. Evidence shows that preschool investments create large returns as students experience less school failure, fewer special education placements and higher graduation and employment rates. High-quality summer programs also help close the achievement gap and prevent students from dropping out. Yet most low-income students do not have access to these opportunities.
Fourth, we must invest in the quality of our educators. Since federal supports for teacher training were dramatically reduced in the ’80s, teacher shortages in schools serving low-income students have increased to the point that there is a revolving door for teachers in these schools. Congress has colluded in lowering preparation standards and creating fast-track alternative certification routes for teachers to fill jobs in high-minority, low-income schools, despite research that shows that these teachers leave faster and reduce student achievement.
Frustrated by this counterproductive approach, a number of organizations representing parents, communities, educators, and civil rights and disability activists have banded together to insist on a higher standard and to advocate for more sensible federal supports for high-quality teaching. Many successful models have been created and documented, but the funding for these programs has been steadily eliminated. The new education law should maintain the NCLB expectation that teachers be fully prepared and qualified for their challenging jobs and then support those goals with service scholarships to underwrite training and high-quality preparation programs in high-need urban and rural communities.
It may sometimes be necessary to close schools, but only as a last resort, after communities have been engaged in diagnosis and decision-making and necessary investments have been made, wraparound services provided and all student needs taken into account. Increased emphasis on parent and community participation in the direction of their public schools should be a key piece of new education law. We must think and act more systemically. We need federal education policy — backed up with state policy — that builds an escalator out of poverty. The 2020 Vision Roadmap produced by the Opportunity to Learn campaign provides one image of how this can be done.
Preventing educational redlining is a moral and a practical issue. The estimated 7,000 students who drop out of school each day represent a human tragedy as well as lost potential for our society. The more than $300 billion a year forgone because of the lost wages and social service costs of dropouts could be spent building strong schools for these students in their neighborhoods.
We must be honest about our challenges and adopt solutions that give all children an opportunity to learn if our nation is going to reclaim its role as a world education leader. We cannot afford to settle for an education law that is looking backward when it is so critically important to bring our future into view.
This was written by education historian Diane Ravitch for her Bridging Differences blog, which she co-authors with Deborah Meier on the Education Week website. Ravitch and Meier exchange letters about what matters most in education. Ravitch, a research professor at New York University, is the author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System,” an important critique of the flaws in the modern school reform movement that she just updated.
Days ago, three economists released a study that created a great deal of controversy. Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard University and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia University studied the school records and income tax records of 2.5 million students in a major urban district (probably New York City) over a 20-year period. They concluded that good teachers cause students to get higher test scores, which lead in turn to higher lifetime earnings, fewer teen pregnancies, and higher college-going rates.
The study was reported on Page One of The New York Times, covered on the PBS Newshour, and lauded by Nicholas Kristof in The Times. While the study itself did not have specific policy recommendations, one of the authors told The Times: “The message is to fire people sooner rather than later.”
The study seemed to vindicate supporters of value-added assessment. It was certainly good news for Erik Hanushek of the Hoover Institution, who has been arguing for several years that the key to improving education is to fire the bottom 5 to 10 percent of teachers based on the test scores of their students. In theory, if a “bad” teacher is replaced by an average teacher, then scores go up.
As you can well imagine, the study had immediate political ramifications. Conservative Republican governors immediately embraced the study as justification for abolishing tenure and any other job protections for teachers.
Bloggers quickly chimed in, and here is a list of the best posts, compiled by blogger extraordinaire and Sacramento, Calif., teacher Larry Ferlazzo.
Here are some obvious conclusions from the study: Teachers are really important. They make a lasting difference in the lives of their students. Some teachers are better than other teachers. Some are better at raising students’ test scores.
The problems of the study are not technical, but educational.
The Chetty-Friedman-Rockoff analysis points us to an education system in which tests become even more consequential than they are now. Teachers would work in school systems with no job protection, and their jobs would depend on the rise or fall of their students’ test scores.
Most teachers do not teach tested subjects, so it is not clear how they would be rated. But those who teach reading or mathematics in grades 3-8 would have to pay close attention to the tests. They would spend extra time preparing students to take them, even more than they do now.
There would be even less time in our schools than now for the arts, history, civics, geography, the sciences, foreign languages, health, and physical education. There would be less time to read challenging literature. There would be less time for science experiments. There would be less time for field trips to museums or historical sites. There would be less time for anything other than getting ready for the state tests.
There would be less time for extracurricular activities. There would be less time for chorus or band or dramatics or painting or film-making. There would be less time to read books, whether novels or histories.
None of these things is directly related to raising test scores.
What matters most is getting the right answer on the test. Divergent thinking would be discouraged because divergent thinking might produce wrong answers. So would originality, creativity, ingenuity, or any other display of independence or critical thinking.
We can expect that some teachers will find ways to avoid teaching the most challenging students and to avoid the most difficult schools and districts. Isn’t that the way incentives work?
When you put all these likely outcomes together, it’s hard to imagine that we will have better education for more kids. We might or might not have higher test scores, but at what cost? Under these circumstances, who will want to teach? Is there a large pool of average, good, or great teachers waiting in the wings?
It’s not surprising that students who get higher test scores are likelier to go to college and eventually have a higher income. But, according to economist Bruce Baker of Rutgers University, it is not so simple to identify which teachers produced these good outcomes. Baker writes: “... just because teacher [value-added] scores in a massive data set show variance does not mean that we can identify with any level of precision or accuracy which individual teachers (plucking single points from a massive scatter plot) are ‘good’ and which are ‘bad.’ Therein exists one of the major fallacies of moving from large scale econometric analysis to micro level human resource management.” (my italics)
It is surprising, in light of all the publicity, that the differences produced by the high value-added teachers are relatively small. Baker shows that the income gains are only about $250 a year over a 40-year working span for each of the students.
As Baker writes: “One of the big quotes in The New York Times article is: ‘Replacing a poor teacher with an average one would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000, the economists estimate.’ This comes straight from the research paper. BUT ... let’s break that down. It’s a whole classroom of kids. Let’s say ... for rounding purposes, 26.6 kids if this is a large urban district like NYC. Let’s say we’re talking about earning careers from age 25 to 65 or about 40 years. So, $266,000/26.6 = $10,000 lifetime additional earnings per individual. Hmmm ... no longer catchy headline stuff. Now, per year? $10,000/40 = $250. Yep, about $250 per year.”
Now, to clear up any doubt, let me make it clear that I don’t believe any school should hire or retain incompetent or “bad” teachers. If teachers can’t teach, they should be fired. No one who is incompetent should be awarded due process rights. Teachers who are having problems should be evaluated by their (hopefully, experienced) principal and peers, offered help, and if they don’t or can’t improve, they should be terminated.
The most peculiar aspect of the study is its concluding paragraph. It is not at all consonant with their public statements about “firing sooner rather than later,” nor with the policy agendas that are being built around the assumption that they recommend laying off more teachers and instituting merit pay. They conclude:
“While these calculations show that good teachers have great value, they do not by themselves have implications for optimal teacher salaries or merit pay policies. The most important lesson of this study is that finding policies to raise the quality of teaching — whether via the use of value-added measures, changes in salary structure, or teacher training — is likely to have substantial economic and social benefits in the long run.” No one could disagree with that statement, certainly not me.
As for me, I prefer deliberate efforts to raise entry standards into teaching, to improve teacher preparation, and to ensure that every school has a significant number of experienced teachers who are masters of their craft. That seems to be what the high-performing nations do. The goal would be to make teaching a prestigious profession, rather than a job that any college graduate — with only minimal preparation — can do.
If one more economist, think tank millionaire tells me how to fix education I will personally invite them to teach my class for a week
What’s missing from education reform debate
This was written by Mark Naison, professor of African and African American Studies at Fordham University in New York and chair of the department of African and African-American Studies. He is also co-director of the Urban Studies Program, African-American History 20th Century. This first appeared on the blog With A Brooklyn Accent.
By Mark Naison
I have been teaching for 45 years. My first students, in the Columbia Upward Bound Program, included a 15 year old who was destined for greatness and a 15 year old who wouldn’t say a word to me or his peers. Being able to connect to both of them, using very different methods, hooked me for life on the challenge of building the confidence and trust required to make learning possible among a diverse group of people.
It is precisely the importance of building trust which is absent from the dominant discourse about education today. Achieving mastery of a fixed body of material is prioritized; opening minds, healing hearts, and building confidence are widely neglected as “soft” attributes not amenable to measurement and evaluation.
Che Guevara once said, “The true revolutionary is guided by feelings of great love.” I would say the same about teaching. “The true teacher is guided by feelings of great love.”
How do you measure love? How do you assess it?
Governments are now spending billions of dollars on complex mathematical formulas to rate teacher effectiveness. Every single measure they have created circumvents the attributes that make teachers love their jobs and which influence students the most
A great teacher gets inside a student’s head, becomes part of the student’s conscience, becomes a moral compass that may offer guidance ten, twenty years after the student was in their class. Things the teacher said during a lecture, wrote in the margin of a research paper, whispered to the student in a private meeting, may come up in the most unexpected times and places. Books, films and songs the teacher recommended may be ones passed on to friends, co-workers and children.
I am saying this from experience as well as inference. I had teachers who inspired me to do things I never dreamed were possible. They did this not only by modeling a passion for learning in their lectures and the way they comported themselves, but by letting me know that, despite my rough edges and uneven writing stills, there was nothing I couldn’t achieve as a scholar if I dared to give myself wholly to the subject I was investigating and kept trying to hone my prose style.
Those teachers — and I will name them because they are all worth honoring — Edward Said, Paul Noyes, Walter Metzger, James Shenton-- provided me with a model of the teacher and scholar I wanted to be. They are with me every time I walk into a classroom.
How do you measure that ?
I know so many great teachers and they are all filled with love for their students and love for their jobs. Every single reform measure introduced in the last 10 years is crushing and demoralizing them.
Someday, we will realize that if we really want to instill a passion for learning in young people, we have to honor and support our best teachers and encourage our most talented and idealistic young people to be teachers for life.
And that means we have to leave room for intangibles like love and trust in how we judge what goes on in schools and understand that the results of great teaching are experienced over a life time, not by testsyou administer three or four times a year.