On the Outside Looking In: Teacher Training

Via Ed Week

In a way, what's most discouraging about the news from this National Council and associates is the continued emphasis on the relatively (in comparison to other countries) low standards of admission at some (many?) schools of education. The saddest thing is that the cause-and-effect here is so blurred, and the cycle it sets up so clear. We dis our teacher ed programs for being unselective, but there's a certain thing about selectivity: you can only select from the applicants you have. When a profession is regularly subjected to criticism, even humiliation, in the public forum, when a profession is demonstrably underpaid and offered increasingly lower levels of job security, how, then, I ask, is it going to attract all those top-flight applicants that NCTQ/USNWR would like to see in the pipeline? Simply put, as a society we're not going to inspire vast numbers of our top college students to enter the field of teaching until we've figured out a way to make teaching as attractive as financial services or engineering.

The voices, at least in the political and economic arenas, that seem to enjoy slagging teachers and the teaching profession are often enough the same ones that can't wait until we make college into a solidly specialized pre-vocational experience (leavened by football games and beer-pong, perhaps) aimed at producing the "innovators" and entrepreneurs that our society so urgently needs. I get the value in innovation and entrepreneurship, but don't we also need podiatrists, yoga instructors, graphic designers, social workers, farmers, philosophers--and teachers? Sure, we're all humbled by boy geniuses who make zillions with their software ideas while the rest of us toil for our daily bread, but we toilers are necessary as customers for their software and to keep the boy geniuses fed and healthy. (And isn't there an irony in that so many of the boy geniuses have tended to be college drop-outs?)

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Why Test Scores CAN'T Evaluate Teachers

From the National Education Policy Center. the entire post is well worth a read, here's the synopsis

The key element here that distinguishes Student Growth Percentiles from some of the other things that people have used in research is the use of percentiles. It's there in the title, so you'd expect it to have something to do with percentiles. What does that mean? It means that these measures are scale-free. They get away from psychometric scaling in a way that many researchers - not all, but many - say is important.

Now these researchers are not psychometricians, who aren't arguing against the scale. The psychometricians as who create our tests, they create a scale, and they use scientific formulae and theories and models to come up with a scale. It's like on the SAT, you can get between 200 and 800. And the idea there is that the difference in the learning or achievement between a 200 and a 300 is the same as between a 700 and an 800.

There is no proof that that is true. There is no proof that that is true. There can't be any proof that is true. But, if you believe their model, then you would agree that that's a good estimate to make. There are a lot of people who argue... they don't trust those scales. And they'd rather use percentiles because it gets them away from the scale.

Let's state this another way so we're absolutely clear: there is, according to Jonah Rockoff, no proof that a gain on a state test like the NJASK from 150 to 160 represents the same amount of "growth" in learning as a gain from 250 to 260. If two students have the same numeric growth but start at different places, there is no proof that their "growth" is equivalent.

Now there's a corollary to this, and it's important: you also can't say that two students who have different numeric levels of "growth" are actually equivalent. I mean, if we don't know whether the same numerical gain at different points on the scale are really equivalent, how can we know whether one is actually "better" or "worse"? And if that's true, how can we possibly compare different numerical gains?

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"Education Reform" process must change

William Phillis, Via the mailbag

The recently adopted "education reform" process seems to follow these steps:

· State officials assume that any deficiencies in student test scores, behavior, work force readiness, college readiness, etc. are due to the lack of competence and dedication of boards of education, administrators, educators and staff in the public common school. (Of course, some of them believe poverty and home environment do not influence test scores, behaviors, etc.)

· State officials are provided model reform legislation by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and seek advice from corporate leaders and others not working in the public common school system. A token representation of public education personnel may also be consulted.

· "Reforms" such as the parent trigger, vouchers, charter schools, mayoral control of schools, appointed commissions to assume part of the functions of boards of education, tuition tax credits, third grade guarantee, high stakes testing, replacement of teachers and administrators in "failing schools", A-F report cards, etc. are enacted with the expectation that these quick fixes will work wonders.

· In all cases the local education community typically attempts to comply with the state's reforms.

· When local educators and administrators don't fully embrace these untested "reforms", they are considered to be stuck in their old ways, resistant to change and not fit for the position they hold.

· Some state officials attempt to intimidate those who don't "buy-in" to the ever changing "reform" ideas. Then local education personnel are told that they would buy-in if they really would take the time to understand the "reform." · When the "reform" measures don't produce extraordinary results, the local education personnel are to blame and thus the system should be farmed out to the private sector.

We'd just add that by the time corporate reform ideas are proven to be failures (such as NCLB) the politiciand responsible for them are long gone and educators are left to pick up the pieces.

I Don't Understand Michelle Rhee

A must read

Of all the images of Rhee, the one that sticks in my head is when she invited a PBS film crew to watch her fire a principal. She said to the crew: "I'm going to fire somebody in a little while. Do you want to see that?" Of course they did, and they filmed it. It was then that I realized that she enjoys hurting people. She enjoys watching people suffer.

In another infamous incident, Rhee told an audience of young teachers that when she was a teacher, she controlled her restless class by putting duct tape on their mouths; when the tape came off, their lips were bleeding. Apparently, the audience found that act of child abuse very funny.

Today Rhee is a national figure. Her organization claims to have a million members, though I hear that anyone who goes to her website is automatically registered as a member. StudentsFirst sends out deceptive email solicitations—I received one myself—asking the recipient if you want to see a great teacher in every classroom. Rhee's name does not appear anywhere on the email. If you answer yes, you are registered as a "member" of StudentsFirst. I don't understand this kind of deceptive marketing on behalf of someone who claims to be concerned about education.

Her organization allegedly has raised more than $200 million and is well on its way to raising $1 billion. This money will be used to attack teachers' unions; to strip teachers of any job protections; to promote vouchers, charters, and for-profit organizations that manage charter schools; and to fund candidates who want to reduce spending on public education and privatize it. I have heard rumors about big-name donors to Rhee, but can't verify them. StudentsFirst does not release the names of its contributors.

Let me add that I find offensive the very concept of "StudentsFirst." The basic idea is that teachers are selfish and greedy and do not have the interests of students at heart. So students need a champion to protect them against their venal teachers, and Rhee is that champion. Supposedly, Rhee and her allies—assorted billionaires, big corporations, wealthy foundations, and rightwing governors—are the only people who can be trusted to care about our nation's children. A New York City writer, Gail Robinson, recently challenged Rhee's claim to be above self-interest after Rhee announced that she was bringing her campaign to New York City.

Ohio funding formula - hearings scheduled

We recently reported that it was unlikely that a new school funding formula would be rolled out this year.

If you're a school administrator, wondering what your next budget is going to look like, waiting for the release of a new school funding formula, our advice is "don't hold your breath".

Former State Rep Stephen Dyer writes today, "Ohio House Republicans announced today another series of hearings on K-12 funding and reform to be led by state Rep. Ron Amstutz, R-Wooster."

He goes on to advise

Having already led a series of hearings on this topic myself, I will give Rep. Amstutz a piece of advice: Don't start from scratch. Take advantage of these unprecedented exams of how funding and reform should work in Ohio. Just because the previous three were led by folks from another party doesn't mean they were devoid of merit. The SFAC was equal part D and R appointments. My hearings were dominated by R-backing Charter Schools. Strickland's meetings included folks from all parties.

There's a lot of money involved, and we're in an election year. Expecting this process to produce a "countrys best" funding formula is a lofty expectation that is certain to disappoint.

As we stated earlier, we suggest that they were a little trigger happy in shooting down the Evidence Based Model, and perhaps they could perform some CPR and bring it back with their own modifications.

Whatever happens, at some point legislators and the Governor must recognize they have a constitutional duty to deliver a quality, fair and equitable public education.

False choices in charter schools

In an interesting article pointing out some of the problems with charter school expansion, the Plain Dealer observes that in some districts, underperforming charters are sucking money away from their contemporary traditional public schools which are rated much higher.

Charter school supporters say all Ohio parents should be able to make the choice for their children, no matter how well their home districts may be doing overall. But district officials say it's unfair for their budgets to take a hit when they're doing a good job according to the state's criteria. And it's especially galling when students leave for a charter school with a lower state ranking.

"I have no problem if we're serving students with better options, but paying for a student to go from an excellent district school to a poor-performing charter doesn't seem right," said State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat who represents Mahoning County. "It doesn't make sense."

As well as sucking money away in order to provide a lower quality education, this story also reveals one of the other major problems with "choice". Parents don't necessarily make rational choices when it comes to their child's education. Factors other than school performance play significant roles. When parents realize their mistake, the cost to their child and the district can be significant

In Parma, for example, the district gets a total of $2,030 per pupil from the state while it has to shell out $5,700 for each of the 900 or so students who attend charters.

"You can do the math," said Treasurer Daniel Bowman. "I don't care what anyone says, that is local property tax money going out that the community approved for a specific purpose and the legislature has decided to spend another way."

By Bowman's calculation, one-fourth of the Excellent-rated district's total state funding is used for fewer than 1,000 charter school students.

The picture is similar in North Olmsted, which drove school board member Terry Groden to testify in Columbus on behalf of Schiavoni's bill. Last school year, 133 students opted for charters. That was about 3 percent of the total enrollment, but they took almost 10 percent of the district's state aid with them, Groden said.

Forty-two of those students ended up returning to the district, which was rated Excellent on its last state report card.

"They came back from charter schools that were not rated at all or were rated lower than North Olmsted," Groden said. "I'm concerned with what we have to do, or undo, with these kids to get them back up to the level of performance we want to see and how that affects the children around them."

Expanding Ohio's failing charter school experiment further as HB136 would do would only serve to amplify these kinds of problems.