If the school Reform movement was honest about its goals (improving education being the theoretical keystone) it would try to engage teachers and other education stakeholders in a dialogue.  It would conduct research on charter school methods that work and try to implement those in traditional public schools.  Instead of focusing on trying to identify and exclude “bad teachers” it would be trying to identify teachers with weak areas, or more specifically, students with insufficient mastery of tested subjects and work to improve the curriculum to address those deficiencies.  Instead of principals getting reports on which teachers are “good” or “bad” Reformers would be producing reports on which subjects need to be emphasized more and which teachers might need more targeted development or mentoring.  Those are all things the Reform movement could  have taken on, could have promoted and could have tried to do; but those things are hard and take expertise and degrees in education many of these Reformers with degrees like political science, economics, and government policy don’t have.  Instead what they have done is try to implement a radical Free Market corporate driven approach (based on crappy untested, unproven and incomplete data I  might add) to try to cull the teacher herd and bring forth a few stars to shame the rest of the flock.

Now, some might think this is just good policy.  The free market at work and all that.  Maybe this will bring out the best in everyone and everyone will try harder and the kids will succeed.  Maybe we don’t actually have to invest in schools or education, simply in a Darwinist approach to identifying the best and brightest, like astronauts we recruit for the space program?

There are, however, a few problems with that approach I’d like to point out.

  • Teachers are not paid well enough to compensate them for making this a career choice requiring such a high degree of instability and competitiveness (this has been identified as a weakness by reformers actually and they’ve talked a lot about vastly improving teacher pay for high performers, while in most cases vastly underfunding school districts – which directly impacts these same pay checks and teachers – so good luck with that.)  Take a look at this graph and tell me you want to go into teaching and put up with all the demonizing and demoralizing teachers are enduring these days.  Teachers still make less than students with just a vocational certificate you can earn in high school and people with vocational associates degrees earn more than teachers with bachelors.  Even all those weird liberal arts majors that studied extinct Romance languages no one ever heard of makes more than teachers. Way to “bring-it” Reformers!
Come be a teacher! We’ll treat you like crap and pay you like we treat you.
  • We need exponentially more teachers than NASA astronauts.  Only about 250 NASA astronauts have been to space, ever.   According to census data we had more than 7.2 million teachers in the US in 2009.  Only about 28% of the US population over 25 has a bachelor’s degree or higher.  About half the population of about 300 million is between the ages of 25 and 65.  That means assuming all those folks were potential employable teachers, teachers make up about 18% of all employed persons in the US with the necessary education (bachelors degree or higher.)
  • The teaching profession and teaching professionals improve in an environment where lesson plans can be shared, teaching methods shared, where improvement of one is good for all.  In a cutthroat environment advocated by reformists, where the very top teachers are rewarded and the bottom are terminated, good luck keeping that environment intact.
  • While some teachers will undoubtedly excel in cutthroat environments, they will be few, and the vast majority of our teachers will burn out or fail without a supportive climate.  The very best performers will be tapped for leadership roles or actively seek them out, such is the nature of highly effective and competitive people.  What we will be left with legions of untrained, unsupported and demoralized teachers.
  • The incentivization and punitive measures assume teachers are simply lazy and a bigger stick and tastier carrot is all that is needed to magically squeeze better teaching methods and outcomes for students.  I learned you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip even before I went to school.  I wonder where Reformers learned the opposite?  What is needed is targeted professional development and a communal reward system that encourages everyone to work together and share knowledge and teaching methods.  Incentivize the entire school for doing better as well as outstanding programs and individuals and reward long-term outcomes, and not just growth, but maintaining outstanding programs.
  • Growth within a ranged scale cannot be infinite and the value added system actually punishes teachers that don’t “add” sufficient test points over an averagly defined teacher.  For students already performing at a high level, teachers can be punished erroneously because they didn’t achieve an unrealistic outcome some incomplete algorithm (no algorithm can take into account the entire human condition such as a recent death in the family or head injury and quantify it as data points even assuming such information was available.  We don’t even factor in 504 status and last I heard homelessness wasn’t considered a mitigating factor either.) says they should have.
  • Student outcomes are more than test scores.  The reform movement actually is trying to tie all positions with student interactions to a test score or some other metric like students are just points of data.  I’ve sat on several committees with social workers and psychologists at the Louisiana Department of Education where we tasked with coming up a method for measuring school social workers.   So really, we’ve come to this?  How many suicides do you have at your school?  Did the student you were counseling that was gang raped do as well as she should have on her test, compared to other student similarly gang raped similar demographics, or with parents killed in car accidents, or that student that was paralyzed, lost a limb, eye, face, from a drunk driver.  Really, I’m not making this shit up.  The guys in charge of the “reforming education” have lost their way. . . in a big way.
  • The Reform movement is taking advantage of FERPA to hide results from stakeholders so they can manipulate the results to their liking and report outcomes with as positive a spin as they can muster, and still more often than not you will only see them tout their “successes” by comparing the results to something catastrophically horrible, or reporting select instances of “success.”  They never publish the whole story. . . believe me.  Data must be approved by media staff and only the positive results or positively spun data makes it out without a fight.
  • I could go on, and maybe I will return to this later, but these are just some of the observations off the top of my head.

So what’s to be done?  Things probably seem hopeless to many of you teachers out there.  Corporations and partisan vampire non-profits like ALEC have control of the legislatures in states where an oversized Reform boot jammed to the back of the necks of teachers and their unions.  Maybe it would be best if you all just retire so they can turn the schools into for profit virtual schools run by NewsCorp, or DVD driven diploma mills?

Or maybe we could fight back. . . and beat them at their own game?

These data worshipping (and defiling) Reformists need something from you to convince people to buy the overnitrated silage they are selling.  They need data.  They need you to be accurate and punctual.  They need SSN’s of students to track them longitudinally and calculate expected point increases even though they are not actually legally entitled to require.

How do I know?  Allow me to let you in on a little secret our lawyers asked me to hide in our Student Information System user guide.SSN numbers cannot be made mandatory

What?  You didn’t read this section falling between pages 190 and 191 of the current SIS User Guide –that is only included to cover DOE’s tail in the event a parent tries to bring a lawsuit against a school district or DOE about requiring a SSN for enrolling a student which can’t legally by done by federal law?  Oops.  I assumed everyone knew.  I hope there aren’t any teachers or parents dissatisfied with the Reform movement enough to start refusing to present SSN cards or numbers when registering students.

Now for some technical stuff. . .

The internal DOE number used to sort out test scores is based in large part on SSN.  This number is used to assign internal numbers to students which are used to build a longitudinal testing record, which then gets used to build a projected test score based on the student’s demographics and previous history.  Currently DOE’s match rate is in the 99%, in large part because they have between 95-98% of all student’s SSN’s.  If just say, 10-20% of students stopped providing SSN’s that could have fairly significant repurcussions for the data quality.  LDOE also uses a number of other matching elements like first and last name, DOB, ethnic code, and gender to perform matches and then some matches have to be done by hand every year by humans reviewing unmatched records and so forth.  As long as you enter your students with the same name and other key demographics the system will find a match, and reformers can credibly relay that they are projecting test scores and grading teachers based on those assignment and assigning students to teachers and so forth.  Sometimes it gets a little difficult to find matches when names change – students deciding they want to go by a nickname for instance. . .

Now if class schedules were to get messed up, that would be a whole ‘nother ball of wax to try to sort out.  You see, the class schedule records is how DOE knows in large part which students are assigned to Mrs. Jackson’s math class.  The class code is important too because if the wrong code was used, then that class would not be included in the Value Added calculations.  Without proper test scores we’d never know that Mrs. Jackson should be graded based on the outcomes of certain students.  There’s also a correction period for “fixing” class schedules around Febraury and March that is largely unsupervised except by principals, if they get around to it.  If a number of low performing students were removed from your class during this correction period, would anyone know?  I wonder. . .

Nuclear Civil Disobedience
What Nuclear Civil Disobedience might look like?

17 thoughts on “The Nuclear Option is Civil Disobedience

  1. I enjoyed your article, C. We had our son in private school for years, but they switched the curriculum, and we weren’t jumping up and down about that. He is now in a charter school that has a very tough curriculum. The teachers are on a year-to-year contract, so there is none of that union-tenure crap. In my opinion, this kind of contract weeds out the bad apples. They are also paid well because the parents must serve a certain number of volunteer hours (and naturally, get hit up left and right for other fun things that cost money……)

    I believe education would be better served in a free-market system. I’m just going by the Govt.’s track record…..

    1. I actually agree that there is a place and a benefit of having charter schools. If they were being implemented in a responsible manner, and not simply as a way to line corporations profits and to destroy traditional teachers and their unions i would be fully behind them.

      I worked at the Louisiana Department of Education for most of a decade and initially I was one of the loudest touters of their success, but I didn’t shy away admitting and pointing out the failures. How else can they improve if we don’t recognize their failures and try other models? We had one school that specialized in section 504 students because that was their mission, their school was composed mostly of 504 students and students with other troubled back grounds. Unfortunately their test scores were not improving fast enough for the state (because we don’t factor in 504 status, just other demographics that made that school and it’s students look like a failure, and have continuously fought against being closed, which is one of the drawbacks of not-understanding when to use data and when to use common sense.) Now charters cherry pick the best students and give them options of expulsion or transferring to another school, once they get the funding. They also strongly discourage special education students from enrolling. We’ve had numerous reports of how they do this so I put a little bog entry together to detail the ones i heard of and was asked to research and a lot of data backs this up (such as the complete or small fraction of special education students in many of these schools.) Additionally we’ve gone to a “Voucher” system for non-public schools which has a number of constitutional issues and the schools are dubious as well. Our gov, in his infinite wisdom, decided there would be no testing of these non-publics and no evaluation of them – because parents should be the ultimate deciders. How can one be an informed decider without any information to compare? Many of these schools also teach creationism, that the loch ness monster is a modern dinosaur and exists, that students can learn everything from DVDs without teachers, that god will fix global warming so pollute to your heart’s content, and so forth. They opened up a Pandora’s box when they decided there should be zero accountability or metrics – and have had to backpedal quite a bit based all the criticism and scrutiny. I have number of other education posts of varying degrees of satire and statistics.

      Thanks for the comment and stopping by. 🙂

      1. Yes, yes, we have a few charter schools here that our irresponsible. Then again, it is going by the “grade” that the state deems to be the worthiness of a school. I find it a bit unfair. I used to be a substitute teacher, and one of the poorest schools that I subbed at consistently scores poorly on the state’s grading scale. I found it to be unfair, for the children were quite different from the kids in an upper-class public school. I definitely had to be extremely creative while working with these kids. I must say, I found them to be very entertaining. I suppose the key is a combination of the parent, the teacher, and most importantly, the individual. I do believe the govt. is a negative in the mix. Your thoughts?

      2. It sounds like you may have found a school that uses something like the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) which is great. That is one of the better performing models to be sure and one of the ones I was most impressed with early on. As you explained, those schools require a lot of parental involvement, additional fees and hard work from students, but those extra inputs are paired with very competent ultra-professional teachers.
        You also recognize in your second comment that not all children have the advantages of strongly motivated parents or extra funds. While it is great to have school models like the ones you describe available, they can’t serve everyone’s needs, even if they could expand them fast enough to meet demand. What is happening is many less than adequate schools are being rushed through the approval process and the monitoring for them is much more lax or non-existent. If adequate and timely information was provided and only properly vetted schools were allowed to participate and continue to participate I would have no problems with the charter movement. If they were held to the same standards public schools are held to and the same enrollment requirements in terms of special needs children and discipline cases and funding were equal and supplemental funding was provided for families that can’t make the extra fees you have to take on then the system would make a lot more sense.
        My wife is a former TFA (Teach For America) teacher from the original batches so she was on the frontline of the charter and reform movement. It started out with a lot of promise but has lost its way when it aligned with groups trying to use the Reform movement to crush teachers unions and make profits off of education spending, rather than improving the lots of children and parents. I have no beef with many of the charters and things they are fantastic (perhaps in smaller more coordinated doses) but the combination of mass approving anyone who wants to open a school and the unproven and disproven value added teacher evaluation systems are what has turned what could have been a boon to what will soon be known as an embarrassing bust.

        Government does not need to tell you what to do, but it can be very helpful at defining general guidelines and goals allowing consumers to make informed choices when it wants to. Right now the people in charge of it would rather it not perform even this very basic regulatory and information compiling task. They think parents will figure out which are the good and bad schools on their own . . . but at what cost – how many of their children’s prime educational years will be lost to incompetence and graft that could easily have been prevented?

  2. Right on, Crazy! Perhaps what is required is the atomic bomb effect of parents standing up and saying, uh? NONONONONO. On the other hand, Texas recently passed a law prohibiting the teaching of “critical thinking” in school. Oh, dear. That means no one will ever be able to figure out the complete irrationality of the current paradigm. Caped crusaders, anyone?

    1. Greeting and welcome, Boozilla. I’m trying to go on memory here, but I’m not sure it was a law they passed, but a political platform the Republican Party from that state inserted into their education platform. Republican’s pretty much run that state, and their Board of Education, so i suppose the distinction is semantic. Last I heard they were backtracking and claimed they would review their platform at their next convention in 2014. So maybe if they don’t eliminate those skills in the next 2 years there’s still hope they will reverse that decision. 🙂 But enough about Texas. Louisiana has the Loch Ness Monster and Dinosaurs!


      I’m not sure why the bible has so many references to goats and other livestock used in various sacrificial rituals, for buying and selling slaves and wives and so forth, but nothing about the Tyrannasaurs Rexes gobbling up the occasional villager or the herds of Triceratops roaming the plains, but I’m not a biblical scholar.

    1. It’s awfully funny. 😆 In all honesty, I wish they would teach creationism in addition to evolution. Gives an individual the choice to discern on their own.

      I guess I need to hunt down your Star Wars article that got Augger riled up…

      1. Startrek Socialism perhaps? I have no problem teaching creationism in a religions of the world class, but it’s not science.

        If Christian parents want to take their kids to Sunday schools where they learn that, that’s fine but that is a Christian belief, not even held by all Christians.

        You can understand the theory of evolution and not believe it. . . So long as you can answer some test questions on what the theory implies. . . People test theories and disprove or refine them all the time based on new observations and evidence. Einsteins theory of relativity may be on the verge of being disproven to some degree. That doesn’t mean it was a useless endeavor to postulate it. The difference between disproving e=mc2 with dark matter and disproving evolution with creationism is that you introduce testable components and when you are done you are left with something useful.

        Unfortunately creationism is a belief, requiring “faith” not facts. If you have a “belief” that is unsupportable by what we consider facts, why is it important what other people believe? Wouldn’t it be irrational and counter productive if scientists just starting “believing ” things handed to them rather than testing the boundaries of our knowledge?

      2. Interesting that you bring up the renowned scientist, Einstein. From what I recall having read on him, he was a religious man who did not believe in evolution. I believe he postulated that it was the same thing as creationism: A belief. Do you not think that is what a theory is? I say this only because many “facts” from the Bible have proven true. I don’t see the harm in teaching both. I don’t understand how one is distinguished from the other as a science or a religion. The fact of the matter is, we will never truly know………..until I invent my time machine. Still saving up for that Lamborghini….

        1. Well he seems to have been wrong about relativity, maybe he was wrong about evolution too? 🙂
          You bring up some interesting points though… which is a nice change, but to rationally discuss them we must come to a mutual understanding of what we each think the other means by creationism and evolution. Are you up for the task? I can start a new post on the subject with what I think they mean…

  3. Wow. How relieved am I on the one hand that the devil didn’t actually make dinosaur bones as a joke, after all!! It sure seemed like a lot of busy work even if La Palin said it was true. The paucity of reference to dinos and sauruses in the bible is no doubt a continuation of the Don’t You Confuse Yourself With Facts Sweet Thing Show. I’m thinking maybe the dinos swam UNDER the ark? After all, now that we know how the female body really works, anything is possible, isn’t it?

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