$50 million. 3 years. No clue.

More on that awful Gates study

Though science does sometimes prove things that are not intuitive, science does depend on accurate premises. So, in this case, IF the conclusion is that “you can’t believe your eyes” in teacher evaluation — just because you watch a teacher doing a great job, this could be a mirage since that teacher doesn’t necessarily get the same ‘gains’ as the other teacher that you thought was terrible based on your observation — well, it could also mean that one of the initial premises was incorrect. To me, the initial premise that has caused this counter-intuitive conclusion is that value-added — which says that teacher quality can be determined by comparing student test scores to what a computer would predict those same students would have gotten with an ‘average’ teacher — is the faulty premise. Would we accept it if a new computer programmed to evaluate music told us that The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday’ is a bad song?

One thing that struck me right away with this report is that the inclusion of student surveys — something that aren’t realistically ever going to be a significant part of high stakes teacher evaluations — is given such a large percentage in each of the three main weightings they consider (these three scenarios are, for test scores-classroom observations-student surveys, 50-25-25, 33-33-33, and 25-50-25.)

Conspicuously missing from the various weighting schemes they compare is one with 100% classroom observations. As this is what many districts currently do and since this report is supposed to guide those who are designing new systems, wouldn’t it be scientifically necessary to include the existing system as the ‘control’ group? As implementing a change is a costly and difficult process, shouldn’t we know what we could expect to gain over the already existing system?

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Time to occupy the education reform

The education reform movement sweeping the country with its emphasis on standardized testing may be impacting the future of the nation by stifling ingenuity, intuition and creativity in student learning. In his recent biography, "Steve Jobs," author Walter Isaacson points out that the genius of Jobs was that he was an intuitive thinker. Jobs was able, according to Isaacson, " to connect artistry to technology, poetry to processors." Steve Jobs' ability and genius to apply creativity to technology is what set him apart from his competition and what made Apple the leading technology company of the world.

One has to wonder with the emphasis today in most schools on standardized testing in which the diminished role of teachers is to simply "teach to the test," how many creative, intuitive and original thinkers will emerge from this sterile learning environment prevalent in most schools today? It is obvious that the so-called education reformers in the country, most of whom are non-educators, and who basically utilize a punitive "test and punish" strategy in every classroom in the country are devoid of any educational research whatsoever. They know nothing, for example, of early educational icons such as Jean Piaget, who has had a profound impact on educational pedagogy. Over the years, psychologists and educational researchers have built upon the pioneering work of Paiget in understanding that learning is not a simple matter of pouring information into the heads of students but, rather, that learning is an act in which people construct new understandings of the world through active exploration, experimentation, discussion and reflection.

Diane Ravitch, author of the "Death and Life of the Great American School System," has a brilliant description of so-called education reformers in this country in which she describes them as people who believe "that schools can be improved by more testing, more punishment of educators, (also known as "accountability"), more charter schools, and strict adherence to free-market principles in relation to teachers and students." Hence, one has to wonder in this type of school classroom in which accountability is the primary goal whether our students will ever become the type of free thinking, creative, intuitive adults that our society needs for leadership and progress.

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