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!
- 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.
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. . .