VAMtastic – what bicycles and teachers have in common

Posted on March 17, 2013

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To start off this discussion about VAM (value added modeling).  The idea that teacher effectiveness can be accurately predicted based mostly on student test scores (or entirely in Louisiana.) and that teacher’s fortunes should be tied to those test scores.

That sounds boring so I’ll start off with a really exciting topic, like global warming. :)  It appears that manmade activities are causing the earth to warm.  Even people the Koch brothers hired to say otherwise were unable to deny this.  Recently a “creative” state Republican legislator named Ted Orcutt proposed an extra tax on bicyclists claiming that bicyclists exude carbon dioxide at higher rates and are harming the environment.

“Also, you claim that it is environmentally friendly to ride a bike. But if I am not mistaken, a cyclist has an increased heart rate and respiration. That means that the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.  Since CO2 is deemed to be a greenhouse gas and a pollutant, bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride.” Ted Orcutt

Early Global Warming Device - from Ted Orcutt's history book

Early Global Warming Device – from Ted Orcutt’s history book

He wanted to discourage bicycle use with his tax claiming this was in the interest of climate control. A helpful, knowledgable reader of the blog I pulled this from did the calculation for us to show the absurdity of this remark most of you probably already realized intuitively was inane and insane.

“I did a back-of-envelope calculation:
CO2 per mile for car getting 20 mph = 446 gram
CO2 per mile for average person riding bike 15 mph = 17gram
But carbon source is different.  The gasoline carbon is newly introduced to the atmosphere while the carbohydrate carbon the cyclist burned came from plants which obtained it from the atmosphere (of course the plants had to be farmed and the food transported both of which take fuel).” Gary

While it is true carbon dioxide does impact the warming of the climate, it is not the sole contributor,  His argument also does not take into account in the example given, cars. (Or the fact these people biking to work would otherwise have to use cars which produce CO2 at  more than 25 times the rate of a bicyclist and that by his logic we should also tax people in gyms and people for just breathing sitting on their sofas)  It does not take into account factories, gas-powered appliances and heating, deforestation, nuclear reactor meltdowns, warfare, airplanes, launching satellites into orbit, and freon and refrigerants just to name a few of some of the more common man-made contributors.

Terrance Shuman a fellow blogger and commenter identified a similar problem with something VAMvateers take for granted on Dr Mercedes Schneider’s blog this morning.

“The planted axiom in all of this, of course, is that the test scores we’re using actually convey something meaningful and important. This has not, in my opinion, been definitively established. And if we don’t know that, the rest of the house of cards comes tumbling down, doesn’t it?”

I pointed out this:

“As a corollary to your axiom, while I think it’s fair to say they convey something, and something that may even prove to meaningful in a limited context, what is not proven is whether the “something” that might be conveyed is meaningful to the context is being applied.  These are student test scores, not teacher test scores.  Sure, teachers have an impact on test scores, the absence of a teacher would probably yield a much lower one – for instance.  That does not take into account all factors influencing a test score.  In fact, what the study results do prove is that teachers are not the sole determining factor, and possibly not even the most important one.  Scores remain consistent only about roughly 20-30% of the time year over year with no change in composition of students or teaching methods.  That implies other factors not accounted for in the “model” impact 70-80% of the score.”

The logic of VAM, if you can call it that, is as inane as Ted Orcutt’s reasoning that if we would discourage people from bicycling we would reduce global warming.  VAMvateers point out that test scores increase over time as kids age, which is hard to argue with.  They claim a “good” teacher is better than a bad teacher for increasing a test score.  This is probably true, also hard to argue with that logic at face value and quantification is not a given.  However at that point they jump the data tracks.  They explain that teachers are the primary influence on student test scores therefore one can use test scores to sort out “good” and “bad” teachers.  However none of the studies, even their own studies, bear this out.  Even by the most benevolent interpretations I’ve seen, changes in test scores can’t be attributed to even half of a student’s change or test score outcome.  Factors that are much harder to measure like environment, curriculum, school facilities, parental involvement, learning disabilities (known or unknown), illness, psychological trauma, poverty, safety, and probably astrological sign (to name a few factors) add up to more that what bankers and billionaires would have you believe.

That’s not to say teachers are unimportant.  That’s also not to say bad teaching or bad teachers are not a problem, merely not “the” problem.  Teachers are a part of the equation we can control, but the measurement mechanism we are using is fallacious.  Just because people like Ted Orcutt are only able to apply what they learned in a first grade science class, doesn’t mean you need to.  Global warming is not adversely impacted by bicyclists simply because they exhale carbon dioxide, anymore than some of our sketchy educational outcomes are solely responsibility of our teachers.  There is no amount of “good” teaching that can singlehandedly overcome the stacked deck of generational poverty, health and safety issues and emotional trauma.  However claiming this to be the case has its advantages for the ones claiming it.

Swelling a class size from 20 to 40 or 60 or as many as 500 for virtual schools will not address those issues, and without looking at any data, I can guarantee it will make things worse.  You will have politicians in the pockets of billionaires and bankers trying to sell you on this idea with cryptic data you won’t understand, designed to dazzle you, just like they did with the dotcoms, the Enrons, the subprime mortgaged backed securities that brought down the housing market, the derivatives trading that almost wiped out AIG and then recently almost wiped out JP Morgan Chase in weeks (having failed to learn the lesson of AIG.)

Don’t be fooled by their “data.”  Look at their motivations, and use your brain, your heart and your experience.  Think back to your own classes (which I assume didn’t have 60+ children in them like Reformers are pushing for now.)

Bicyclists are not causing global warming anymore than teachers are causing our population with the highest childhood poverty rate in the industrialized world to do worse on  standardized tests.  Look in the mirror the next time you vote down a millage tax for school improvements, or you let your children watch TV before doing their homework, or elect a governor that tells you the teachers are at fault, not you, not poverty, not schools with roach infested halls and leaking walls and faulty air conditioning.  When you elect a meglamaniacal governor  like Bobby Jindal (who never saw an illegal contribution he felt he needed to return) and allow him to hire a Superintendent like John White that empties music rooms, art studios, libraries, guidance counselors, school psychologists, GT programs and cuts funding for special education programs. . . well look in the mirror and you will have your answer.

After all these Bankers and billionaires have done to fool you with their “data” in the past, you would really have to be a fool to “Believe” them now.  They even use this concept to mock you, you know. . .  The “Louisiana Believes” slogan John White and his sadistic cronies dreamed up is an inside joke at among the top brass at LDE, but if you don’t see it for what it is, well then the joke really is on you.

Actually I really hope you are being fooled by their numbers and no matter how many times they come to you with ridiculous claims backed by infantile reasoning of the Ted Orcutt kind.  Because if not, well, then you are just allowing your kid’s teachers to take the fall for your laziness, greed and sloth – glad that they are taking the fall so you can continue to watch your reality TV while your kids play their video games and 25% of other people’s kids struggle to complete their homework – with empty stomachs and gunshots in the background, or even the foreground in schools like Sandy Hook.

I wonder how their teachers VAM scores will look this year.  I’m pretty sure the VAMvateers haven’t added mass murder adjustment to their equation, but if when all the students at that school do worse than expected, at least we can can find someone other than the shooter, or the gun, or us for allowing those guns to be so accessible.

We can blame the teachers.

Problem solved.

Jersey Shore anyone?

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