Providing a broad based education for K-12 is a very complex endeavor. It's that complexity which makes it difficult to distill what policies work and what don't, when so many variables affect student outcomes.
However, a cottage industry is being developed to reduce the entire topic of public education to a letter grade or a single number. It's as though these architects of simplicity have read Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy and determined that maybe because the answer to "the earth, universe and everything" is 42, it's should be even easier to grade a school as a simple C, or a teacher to a 1.07.
The problem of course is that much like Douglas Adams' novel, this thinking is also science fiction. To distill complexities down to such simple terms, means making highly subjective decisions and ignoring, or worse, being oblivious to, multiple variables.
A few cases in point. Ohio is about to deploy a new school rating system, based upon subjective measures, and ignoring a host of other factors.
See how clear those letter grades are?
Separating the effects of economic factors from school performance doesn't appear to have been one of the major efforts undertaken, even though we have known for a long time that a students socioeconomic status, and that of the school district is the leading predictor of performance, by far.
Another recent example has been the use of teacher level value add scores by New York's print media
However, we can’t take the performance categories – or the Daily News’ “analysis” of them – at face value. Their approach has one virtue – it’s easy to understand, and easy to do. But it has countless downsides, one of them being that it absolutely cannot prove – or even really suggest – what they’re saying it proves. I don’t know if the city’s charter teachers have higher value-added scores. It’s an interesting question (by my standards, at least), but the Daily News doesn’t address it meaningfully.
Though far from the only one, the reporters’ biggest problem was right in front of them. The article itself notes that only about half (32) of the city’s charter schools chose to participate in the rating program (it was voluntary for charters). This is actually the total number of participating schools in 2008, 2009 and 2010, most of which rotated in and out of the program each year. It’s apparently lost on these reporters that only a minority of charters participating means that the charter teachers in the TDR data do not necessarily reflect the population overall. This issue by itself renders their assertions invalid and irresponsible.
Simple thinking, and bad education reporting is a major impediment to real education reform that will improve the quality of our schools.
Why is it that a politician, such as Mayor Frank Jackson, can put forward plans to eliminate teacher seniority, and it not be pointed out that teaching experience matters, and that if his goal is to improve the quality of Cleveland's public schools, his chosen policy preference is antithetical to that?
If that wasn't simple enough, of course there are even more complex answers to this question.
But these overall findings ignore the fact that the experience/achievement relationship differs a great deal by context. For instance, the returns to experience appear to vary by where teachers work. The relationship is more consistent among elementary school teachers (especially compared with those in high schools). The effect of experience on teacher productivity may also be mediated by the quality of their peers in the same school – i.e., that novice teachers with more effective peers in the same school do better.
Similarly, there is evidence that experience matters less – or less consistently – in poorer schools (also see here). There are several plausible explanations for this discrepancy, such as the possibility that teachers in poorer schools burn out more rapidly, or that there are difficulties in teaching lower-income children that are harder to adjust to.
The experience factor not only varies by where you teach, but also by what you teach. Math teachers seem to improve more quickly (and consistently) than reading teachers, while newer evidence suggests that the same is true for teachers who remain in the same grade for multiple years.
Finally, it bears mentioning the obvious point that the effect of teacher experience might be totally different if we were able to look at outcomes other than test scores. The idea that experience doesn’t matter after five or so years incorrectly implies that test scores are the only relevant outcome. Nobody believes that is the case. (And, for what it’s worth, teachers with whom I’ve spoken find the idea that they stop improving after four or five years laughable.)
Instead the debate over the Mayor's plan has not revolved around whether it has any basis in supportable fact, but instead around simplistic stories of the politics involved.
There are enough bad actors in the corporate school reform movement willing to put aside hard truths and solid facts in favor of their desire to profit from public education, but that should be no excuse for others to not challenge simplistic thinking and unsupported asertions which can be equally as damaging to the goal of delivering a quality education to all students.
Michelle Rhee was in Ohio yesterday, and had a Q&A with StateImpact. A few of her answers raised eyebrows.
A: It’s very interesting. John Kasich is a Republican, I’m a Democrat, so we certainly don’t agree on all issues. But as it pertains to education and education reform, I have found Gov. Kasich to be a very, very strong proponent of reform.
What people label themselves as is a matter of personal preference, but one isn't hard pressed to notice that Rhee spent the better part of 2011 working very closely with Republican governor's and finding so few friends in the Democratic party that her lobbying front group "StudentsFirst" had to go out and hire a PR flack. You don't have to take our word for it though. Leaked in a memo, Rhee spoke of her "Waiting for Superman" event with the governor being designed to boost the governor's flagging approvals
Drive to Cleveland!
@ 6:10 Governor Kasich will start the viewing of Waiting for Superman. Margaret Spelling will give a pre-taped special message at the beginning. Mafara will be on site.
(NOTE: WFS will be broadcast via webcam to six other town hall meetings through out the state. The locations were chosen based on districts where we need to sure up support for the Governor’s budget. It’s also being broadcast via webcam for house parties that were put together by the Partnership for Ohio’s Future.)
Did we also mention that Rhee's lobby group helped craft parts of SB5? They did. So when she talks about how popular her agenda is, being reminded it was defeated 62%-38% isn't being unkind, it's being truthful.
This, however, wasn't the Q&A that raised our eyebrows the most.
A: For example last-in, first-out basically says that if you’re the last teacher hired, you must be the first teacher fired at the time of a layoff. Makes absolutely no sense. Nobody wants layoffs to occur, but if they do have to occur then we have to do our best to ensure that the best teachers, the most highly effective teachers are maintained in the system. So I don’t see that as a Republican point of view, I don’t see that as a Democratic point of view, I see that as a pro-kid stance.
When asked about how she balances her claims to be a Democrat with her alliances with Republican governor's, she avoids the question altogether. Given how easy it is to document her Republican bona fides, that come as no surprise.
Rhee could have pivoted away form that uncomfortable question with all manner of responses. But as if to further prove our point that corporate education reformers all have a fetish for teachers losing their jobs, Rhee couldn't help herself and responded with an answer wholly about teachers losing their jobs. It's seems pathological.
The fact that Rhee and her lobby group have to resort to such contortions so early in their efforts is no surprise. We've long ago documented how deceptive they are about their agenda, and SB5's massive defeat by actual voters demonstrates they might be wise to keep their corporate education reform agenda cloaked - because when that agenda is exposed, people really don't like what they see.
With the ever increasing generation and use of value added scores - that is, scores primarily based on student test results, there will be a increasing desire by some to inappropriately use these scores in a public way.
The Ohio Department of Education recently conducted a session on this topic with Ohio's media to try to inform them on the proper use of value add, its complexities and limitations.
Such is the red hot nature of this topic, the Center for American Progress has just released a report on the subject of publishing value add scores tied to teachers names. It concludes with this warning.
The bottom line is this: Teachers need to be part of reforms but releasing names in this way only leads to conflict and runs counter to the need for collaboration. We note also that parent notification is a particularly tricky issue that needs considerably more thought than we were able to devote to it in this brief.
Releasing value-added scores at the school level is appropriate, however, and this could serve valuable purposes related to transparency and accountability. Districts could aggregate value-added scores and evaluations by grade, or by school, as a component of a robust accountability system that could then be folded into the requirements of state or national accountability laws. Publicly releasing such aggregate information could play an important role in documenting whether or not highly effective teachers are equitably distributed among schools in a district and among districts in a state.
If journalists attempt to do their own analyses of value-added data, they should follow the same standards that researchers do when protecting human subjects. "is means that data are de-identified and individual names are never published.
Furthermore, datasets should continue to be available to researchers whether in academic institutions or in media outlets. Such research is absolutely critical in order to develop a deeper knowledge base about value-added scores, their potential uses, and misuses that should be avoided.
Battele for Kids, who are heavily involved in the design and creation of value add and teacher evaluations had this recent warning
As we increasingly rely upon data in the persuit of corporate education reform policies, we need to be vigilant in holding those who use this data to a high standard of analysis, and not allow the misappropriate or intepretation of data to drive ideoloigcal or profit driven agendas.
After the SB5 debate last night, State Sen Niehaus was asked "If you look at the polls they seem to indicate that voters, even though they are polling against SB5 support portions of it, are you prepared in the senate to move forward worth separate legislation if this fails next month?"
State Sen. Neihaus responded, "Well I think Senator Faber spoke to it, I mean the issues that drove the necessities of having SB5 or issue 2 haven't changed. were on an unsustainable path we cannot continue paying the cost of local government level or state level so those fundamental factors have not changed so we have not prepared anything at this point, given the fact that the situation will remain exactly the same on Nov. 10, then we certainly have an obligation to the voters and residents of Ohio to find a way to make sure, to ensure the continuation of local government services in a reasonable way"
You can fast forward to the 2minute 37 mark for the exchange
I cannot imagine anything that would great more chaos and anger than thwarting the will of Ohio's voters.
HB 136 pass out of the House Education committee yesterday 12-10, a party line vote with just one Republican voting no. But what is HB 136?
The bill replaces the ʺEd Choiceʺ and "Cleveland Scholarship" voucher programs, and replaces them with a voucher program instead based on family income, and calls it the "Parental Choice and Taxpayer Savings Scholarship Program" or ʺPACTʺ.
So it's a statewide voucher program with the amount of the voucher deducted from a studentʹs school district, with no limit on the number of PACT vouchers that can be awarded. Of course these vouchers can be used at any eligible nonpublic school.
So here we have a bill that allows unlimited amounts of money to be taken from any school district and sent directly to private institutions, effectively gutting public education for the majority of citizens students, The Governor and the Department of Education must have some thoughts on this? Gongwer
"It's had a lot of deliberations" in committee, he said. "It's a very important bill."
Nevertheless, the speaker said he would "have to see if the administration, which is going to come forward with a new plan on primary and secondary (education), whether they're friendly, unfriendly or what."
"I have not talked with the state superintendent either at this point, so I think we have a little more work to do while it's in Rules (Committee)."
Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, said the governor strongly believes in school choice but has not taken a public stance on the measure. ODE also said it has no formal opinion.
How can a bill the effectively provides the means to privatize public education have had a "lot of deliberations" if the Governor, ODE, and State Superintendent not taken any position?
Greg Mild at Plunderbund walks through just one scenario to highlight how destructive this bill would be
Assuming Dublin parents can find private schools to take their children, this could continue until every student has taken their private tuition money out of the Dublin pool and the entire district is privatized. Except that would be impossible because the pool of money can’t sustain the model in the legislation. Honestly, it’s just basic arithmetic at this point.
District funds remaining: $12,089,366
[Divided by] private tuition voucher: $4,626
[Equals] Number of vouchers available for funding: 2,613
Number of total students in Dublin City Schools: 13,910
So, after student number 2,613 has taken their tax money and run, I’m left with two questions for the “financial experts” down at the Statehouse:
Who pays for number 2,614?
Who funds the remaining 11,000+ students?
As Greg notes, HB136 would destroy a public school that is graded excellent with distinction and leave over 10,000 students out in the cold.
Here's the LSC synopsis of HB136, you'll note we haven't even touched upon the education savings accounts aspect to the bill.