Posts Tagged ‘value-added’

Austerity and Accountability for Thee But Not for Me

October 15, 2012

One can hardly be within earshot of any babbling politician anywhere in the US these days without hearing about the need for accountability and austerity, austerity and accountability. This goes double  — at least ! — if said babbler is babbling about education  which is likely as the  weeping and gnashing of teeth over the sheer lousiness of public school teachers  has become a  national pastime greater than baseball and is infinitely easier to play.

Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with talking about austerity and accountability if it is implemented in a sane fashion and shared across the board.  But, when it comes to education, at any rate, how exactly is this accountability and austerity stuff played out? Well, for the austerity part you simply slash budgets left and right, regardless if said slashing results in elephantine class sizes, vanishing music, art, and gym   classes, and legions of teachers buying pencils, notebooks and what have you for their students.   Rather more furtively you undermine teacher’s pensions and health care, target   teachers with experience and hence higher salaries and systemically create conditions that are so demoralizing and degrading many people simply quit after a couple of years.   This kind of thing is absolutely guaranteed to keep the ship a bit more austere.

The accountability angle is even simpler.  In fact, one might say it is simple minded.      For about a decade now the idiotic idea of applying the principles of business to the art of teaching has been allowed to run roughshod over just about the entire United States. This has led to the absurd if revealing situation in which the language of education and the language of business are in many cases interchangeable, even if the change only went one way. That is to say while I have yet to hear of any businessman speaking of, say, “disjunctive conjunctions” or “pathos” I have been forced to listen to rivers of crazy and reckless blather (all somehow delivered with a straight face ) concerning a teacher’s  “value -added”  “metrics” and the like all built around the apotheosis of the standardized test. In fact, more standardized tests than have ever been seen before or even imagined on planet earth. And there is more to come.  More  and more and more.     It remains to be seen what, if any,  positive changes will come of the ceaseless testing of our children, at least as opposed to the certainty of the billions that will be made by test makers and text book publishers, all certain to be revised every year or so to insure even more billions and all courtesy of the public dime.

No austerity there, thank you very much.

I, for one, predict that the cultural illiteracy that allowed this testing mania to take hold will merely deepen.  How can it not?    I also believe it will be produce millions of test drunk graduates who will be shocked to discover that the vagaries of life bear zero relationship to a standardized test.  How could they be otherwise ?

For the time being, however, it’s the teacher’s turn to be shocked:  First by the viciousness and relentlessness of their billionaire backed attackers and then by the ease in which a handful of billionaires have pushed around our elected officials  — up to and including the president of the United States — like they were so many balloons, forcing their ignorant will upon an entire nation of children and their teachers, come what may. Let us put aside, for the moment, the outrageous truth about the tests that are increasingly used to evaluate public schools and public school teachers: put aside the fact that they have no scientific merit whatsoever. None. Zero. Zip.   Put aside the fact that the very people who created them have stated explicitly and repeatedly that they were not designed to evaluate teachers and should not be used to evaluate teachers.  Today, in more and more of the country the teachers are judged “effective “ or  “ ineffective”’ largely by the test scores of their students.

Let us consider the consequences of receiving such an  evaluation.

When a public school teacher is judged incompetent and fired, unlike say a bank employee or a Wall  Street  hustler, they cannot simply walk down the street and  apply to the school a few blocks down.    They are stripped of their licenses, and with their license, their livelihood.   This is bad.  Very, very bad. And if you are going to do it, if you are going to strip  a person of their ability to support themselves and their families,  you had better have some damned good reasons to do so and they’d better be more than hopelessly flawed tests scores.    I have seen this horrible and humiliating process play out with three fine teachers whom I had the privilege to work with.   Indeed, two years later it is still playing out as two of them are still searching for work and one recently had to leave the country to land a job.

And with them you have austerity and accountability in one big disgusting bang.


Which brings us to the curious case of peripatetic twice failed school chancellor Jean Claude Brizard, late of Rochester and more recently Chicago who seems, like so many people of power and authority, somehow immune to the pitiless eye of both  austerity and accountability that has caused so many so much pain and misery. In fact, Brizard’s situation seems to  mock it.

Consider the following from

Departing Brizard to get full year’s salary

By John Byrne

Clout Street

12:12 PM CDT, October 12, 2012

Departing Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard will get a full year’s salary as part of his severance package, district officials said today.

The school board gave Brizard a two-year contract at $250,000 a year when it hired him in April 2011. The contract was set to expire next May.

A severance package of a full year’s salary seems peculiar enough in the best of times but in an age of austerity?  And it is that much more peculiar when, as the  paragraph below seems to indicate, Brizard,  in fact, quit.

Brizard approached Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale about stepping down.”

Is it customary to receive severance package when you quit your job ?  Will I get one if I quit mine ?   A full year’s salary?   Or is this extraordinary arrangement reserved only for those who wander from city to city furthering the deliberate destruction of the public  school system, paying fealty to their corporate overlords  while preaching from  their perches of fleeting power the eternal gospel of accountability  and austerity for the little people ?

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

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. (

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.  (

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

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.


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

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


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.