Archive for September, 2010

Another Volley in the War on Teachers

September 1, 2010


By advocating that school systems across the nation implement a teacher evaluation system that research from the Department of Education itself has warned is  “ subject to a considerable degree of random error,”  Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is  recklessly and knowingly condemning unknown numbers of dedicated teachers to needless public shame and the possible termination of their careers.

Allow me to rephrase this:  by advocating that teachers be evaluated (after which they can be   either financially rewarded   or terminated) by a system that is known to be   fundamentally flawed and thereby wholly unreliable Mr. Duncan is, in effect, advocating   institutional fraud on a national scale in which, among other things, the careers of any number of excellent teachers will surely be destroyed.

(Formula to Grade Teachers’ Skill Gains in Use, and Critics

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/education/01teacher.html?th&emc=th)

The destruction is a statistical certainty. It is  merely a question of  how many.

It gets better. In their perverse and perversely successful Race to the Top scam  (in which states in a nominally democratic society compete against each other for federal funding for a public school system by accepting increasingly degrading conditions for teachers) the Obama administration has made implementation of value added analysis a precondition for even being considered for the “grants.”

This is the same Department of  Education, mind you, that has warned of the unreliability of the method.

Nor are they alone in their criticism.

A report released this month by several education researchers warned that the value-added methodology can be unreliable.

As the Times reports,  “If these teachers were measured in a different year, or a different model were used, the rankings might bounce around quite a bit,” said Edward Haertel, a Stanford professor who was a co-author of the report. “People are going to treat these scores as if they were reflections on the effectiveness of the teachers without any appreciation of how unstable they are.” ’

At this point it  goes  without saying that   advocating such a  transparently flawed system is but a rather more transparent  continuation of  Mr. Duncan’s  and the Obama administration’s relentless war on teachers,  all in the name of  somehow or other “reforming” our school system. The reformation, almost a decade into the process and centered  almost entirely on standardized test  scores has led to no real  improvement.  This, despite hundreds of  millions of  dollars wasted.

As such the reform  is  a failure.  Those responsible for it should have the backbone to face up to this fact.  That is, they should be as accountable as they desire teachers to be.

Reform  has succeeded, however, in  completely  demoralizing and disgusting thousands and thousands of completely dedicated teachers across America.   “Value added” evaluations are sure to increase both the disgust and the demoralization.

What exactly is  “value added analysis?”   It as a method, its advocates claim, for increasing teacher accountability and thereby allows one teacher to be compared with another teacher and in this way sees which teacher is  “good” and which teacher is “bad.”

And how does this method increase teacher accountability?  By increasing a child’s vocabulary?  By helping a student struggle through the nuances of, say, Moby Dick or some other classic mind expanding work ?

By little by little helping a child  develop  critical  thinking skills so he or she   might have some chance of  comprehending the  world  they must soon survive in ?

Nah!  None of that Kumbaya stuff in our brave new world!   As any serious person knows, the only real way for  students to learn is to hold teachers accountable and the only real way of holding them accountable is by analyzing  data: i.e. by comparing students scores on standardized bubble tests and seeing how they do from year to year.

Here’s how the New York Time’s describes the value-added method:

“In value-added modeling, researchers use students’ scores on state tests administered at the end of third grade, for instance, to predict how they are likely to score on state tests at the end of fourth grade.

A student whose third-grade scores were higher than 60 percent of peers statewide is predicted to score higher than 60 percent of fourth graders a year later.

If, when actually taking the state tests at the end of fourth grade, the student scores higher than 70 percent of fourth graders, the leap in achievement represents the value the fourth-grade teacher added.”

Did you get that?  You would if you worked in the “corporate community” which is, of course where the phrase and the thinking behind it originated.

Here is a more succinct definition found, appropriately on a business website: Value Added: The enhancement added to a product or service by a company before the product is offered to customers. (http://www.investorwords.com/5210/value_added.html#ixzz0yI8Obp8N)

In the same way I can appreciate the brutal clarity of the language of   business, I cannot help but shudder to think of how dehumanized we have become when our own government is demanding the implementation of a system where words like “teachers”  and “students” are interchangeable with  words such as “products” and “customers.”

To be fair, valued added analysis does have advocates other than Arne Duncan – even if they do have very vested interests in the scheme.

“William L. Sanders,” reports the New York Times,”  a senior research manager for a North Carolina company, SAS, that does value-added estimates for districts in North Carolina, Tennessee and other states, said that “if you use rigorous, robust methods and surround them with safeguards, you can reliably distinguish highly effective teachers from average teachers and from ineffective teachers.”

Dr. Sanders helped develop value-added methods to evaluate teachers in Tennessee in the 1990s. Their use spread after the 2002 No Child Left Behind law required states to test in third to eighth grades every year, giving school districts mountains of test data that are the raw material for value-added analysis.”

Dr. Sanders makes no mention, however, of why his “mountains of test data” have done nothing at all to improve the Tennessee school system, perhaps because such “data” might interfere with SAS acquiring mountains of tax money from unsuspecting Tennesseans impressed by sophisticated sounding computer generated nonsense.  (http://www.sas.com/businessanalytics/)

But what really is going on here?  This  is yet another method to turn teacher against teacher, to make teaching somehow competitive the better to undermine any solidarity and implode teacher  unions.

While it  cannot be said  for certain what Mr Duncan wants , there is  little  question  of the goals of the people from whom Mr. Duncan and his  boss, President Obama, seem to be taking orders.    Unelected and unaccountable, the de facto educational policy making team of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Mike Bloomberg,  the Walton family, Whitney Tilson and his fellow hedge fund billionaires at Democrats for Education Reform would like nothing better than to create a  completely corportized public school system run by the likes of themselves in which  troublesome democratic elements such as unions and teacher input would be non existent.

Think Singapore.

They are well on their way  to getting what they want.  There is  no doubt in my  mind that the ultimate goal of men like Gates and Bloomberg and the rest is to eviscerate unions in America altogether  — hence their sudden obsession with education and re-educating educators.   Neither Mr. Duncan nor  Mr. Obama have given any  indication  they disagree with these men.  Quite the contrary.   The fact that the whole  lot of them have absolutely  no idea of what they’re doing doesn’t seem to trouble any of them in the  least.  Nor, much to our  national disgrace, does it seem to trouble many of our fellow citizens.

But back  to the “value added”  campaign.  In a sane and healthy society, such dangerously unfair advocacy from the head of a federal institution would lead to a public outcry, possibly an investigation into ulterior motives, even demands for the Secretary’s resignation; at the very least such advocacy would call into serious question the secretary’s competence, knowledge and ethics.

As we are as a society far from sane or healthy and increasingly indifferent and adjusted to the institutional debasement of both ourselves and our fellow citizens — just as long as it can be rationalized via an infantile application and servile acceptance of bogus data – you can expect but two reactions from such Duncan’s advocacy: either silent indifference or cheerleading from those who have located in “ineffective” teachers the perfect scapegoat for their own failed lives or the perfect business opportunity in privatizing education.

In any and all cases, the sheer recklessness and cruelty of implementing a transparently faulty system of evaluation upon vital, dedicated professionals will not be an issue of any discussion.

For those who care and for those who are affected by it, the entire reform juggernaut feels like an endless sick joke. But the joke is  on all of us —  especially the kids.

For the past two years, in subways ads, in the New York Times, on the airwaves and TV, New Yorkers been subjected to report after report concerning the miraculous leaps our students, particularly minority students, have made in their tests scores under the wise and brilliant leadership of Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein.   Here was proof  that  what was needed to fix the schools was   the corporate business model and a ceaseless demand for teacher accountability.

Bloomberg and Klein seemed to be everywhere.There they were beaming on the six o’clock news.  There they were on the cover of the NY Post.   There they were testifying before Congress about the great strides they made and the greater strides they will make!

Two thirds of our students were passing English while 82 percent were passing math – and this was only the beginning!

Except it wasn’t because it was largely  bullshit.

Evidence of the bullshit appeared sporadically over the  summer.

The first blow came with a report that almost half of the NYC public school graduates who enrolled in the City University of New York needed at least one remedial course and 40 percent dropped out within two years.

(Schools Given Grade on How Graduates Do

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/10/education/10remedial.html?th&emc=th)

According to Susan L. Forman, who  has taught remedial math at Bronx Community Collage for four decades, many of the issues have remained the same: students are easily confused by fractions and negative numbers and become paralyzed when they are told they cannot use calculators.

The change that Forman has noticed  is that students are often overly confident.

“Their naïveté is just extraordinary,” she said. “They have a tremendous underestimation of what they do not understand.”

This troubling over confidence is the logical by product of telling students over and over again that getting a high score on a multiple choice test and getting an education are the same thing.  They are not and they never will be – and this is one of the reasons all of the major reformers send their children to schools that hold such nonsense in proper distain.

Meanwhile, our schools are graduating untold scores of students who by no fault of their own are barely literate and numerate but bursting with confidence.

A troubling combination. One might say that it is even cruel.  Or a con job.

There was more bad news and all of it was predictable enough when you considered that teachers were forced to teach students how to pass a bubble test rather than how to write a simple narrative sentence.

Klein and Bloomberg responded in typical fashion.  In no way, shape or form did they question their obsession with test scores or their ridiculous  ( or cynical ) underlying premise that a high score on a  bubble  test was indicative of  a reasonably  educated person.  Instead, they began a program to give high schools yet another grade from A to F based on how their graduates did in City University.

Somehow, in the minds of Bloomberg and Klein, teachers were to be accountable  for their students progress even after they were no  longer their students.

Remarkable!

Then,  in the doldrums of July  ( do  not think that an accident ! ) New York State  released a damning and bracing report. Raising the standards from a place where it was almost impossible to fail to  a more or less acceptable level, state officials “readjusted” the levels to  something closer to  where they  should be. (Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/29/education/29scores.html?th&emc=th)

To almost no teacher’s surprise, the miraculous leaps all turned out to be a lie.  86 percent passing in math became 61 percent.  77 percent passing in English became 53 percent. Teachers know that learning is a slow arduous, wholly unpredictable struggle.   Miraculous leaps in test scores are as much a con as are miraculous   leaps  in real estate or tulips or the stock market or  whatever.    They are seldom if ever built on solid ground and  sooner or  later the con is exposed.  Then on August 15  came another report, this one even sadder as it  detailed and exposed the much heralded  lie that the racial  gap in the city was closing. (Triumph Fades on Racial Gap in City Schools

By SHARON OTTERMAN and ROBERT GEBELOFF

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/nyregion/16gap.html?th&emc=th)

It also exposed the fact that after eight years of dictatorial control over the school system, eight years of imposing a corporate business structure on a school  system, eight years of harassing and hounding  teachers with ceaseless talk of accountability, the leadership of Mike Bloomberg and his friend Klein had improved nothing.

This result, of course, should be no surprise to anyone who knows anything about education or even anyone who has bothered to think about it for a few minutes. This would exclude, of course, Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Klein.

Not that such sobering “data” would shake either know-it-all Klein or Bloomberg out of the narcissistic haze in which they dwell.  Far from it. Nor is either one likely to ever assume accountability for their failure to improve a system they themselves largely imposed and have completely controlled for years.

Perhaps, in time, the idiotic and perverse notion of imposing a corporate business structure onto a school system and expecting it to produce anything more than an absolute mediocrity (at best) will be seen as what it is:  as barbaric as the medieval notion of drilling a hole in the head of a person suffering from mental illness.  Only in an age of paralyzed imagination can either barbarity be allowed.

And paralyzed we seem to be.

The more the corporate business model fails — even after the corporate business model led the world over a cliff into  a deepening global  recession  —  the more certain institutions cling to it as the sole model of accountability. The more the leaders of  such institutions babble on endlessly and sternly about accountability,  the  less accountable  they  are.

And this leads us back to Mr. Duncan and his reckless advocacy of the “value added analysis,” a system of evaluation researchers in his own governmental department (and many  other credible sources )  have told him is, at  best,  flawed.

Where is the accountability with this man?  Who is accountable to the teachers whose careers and lives will be destroyed by the implementation of this system?  Why is our government doing this and why are we accepting this?

As I wrote above, with the wholesale implementation of such a system, the destruction of the careers of any number of excellent, dedicated teachers is a statistical certainty.

This is insane.

And so are we  for  accepting it.

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