Monday, December 27, 2010

Imagine a nation with excellent schools

Imagine that 25 years ago that nation's schools were below international averages in math and sciences

Imagine that nation had large differences between schools with affluent students versus those with poorer students

Imagine that nation now has almost no difference in performance between schools with affluent students and those with poorer students

Imagine in that nation teachers are so respected that the best students compete to become teachers, not just for two years, but for a career

Imagine that that nation's schools are now internationally respected

Imagine that our nation might actually be able to learn from what that nation has done

Stop imagining. I'm talking about Finland, as you can read in a piece in today's Boston Globe, by Pasi Sahlberg, titled Learning from Finland and subtitled How one of the world’s top educational performers turned around.

Sahlberg is now director general of the Center for International Mobility and Cooperation at Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture. Previously he served as a Washington-based World Bank education specialist. Having lived in the US, he is well-aware of the problems of the US educational system. He is also knowledgeable about international comparisons of schools, for example, the recent PISA (The Program for International Student Assessment) by OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), in which yet again Finland was the top ranked nation (ignore the results from Shanghai, which are (a) not typical of China, and (b) where students spend several hours daily in intensive test preparation AFTER a full day of school). Finland was also highly ranked in a international study by McKinsey and Company.

Finland used to have serious problems in school performance, as Sahlberg acknowledges.
Today, as the most recent PISA study proves, Finland is one of the few nations that have accomplished both a high quality of learning and equity in learning at the same time. The best school systems are the most equitable — students do well regardless of their socio-economic background. Finally, Finland should interest US educators because Finns have employed very distinct ideas and policies in reforming education, many the exact opposite of what’s being tried in the United States.

The Finns examined what other countries were doing, and as Sahlberg also writes
The secret of Finnish educational success is that in the 20th century Finns studied and emulated such advanced nations as Sweden, Germany, and the United States. Finns adopted some education policies from elsewhere but also avoided mistakes made by these leading education performers.

We'll talk about the mistakes Finland is avoiding shortly.

First, some argue that Finland is nowhere near as diverse as the US. Sahlberg acknowledges that is true, but also points out that it is becoming increasingly diverse in recent years, with the implication that the additional diversity is not affecting the performance of its schools. Further, as many have pointed out Finland has a far lower level of childhood poverty than does the US, well under 5%b as compared to ours at more than 20%. Yet in Finland differences between schools with substantial numbers of poor children - primarily in rural areas - now perform as well as those with more affluent students in the urban areas. Sahlberg refers to the results of the most recent PISA, where
The best school systems are the most equitable — students do well regardless of their socio-economic background.

There are some real differences in the approach that Finland took to achieve the results which now rank it so highly. For example,
Finnish children never take a standardized test. Nor are there standardized tests used to compare teachers or schools to each other. Teachers, students, and parents are all involved in assessing and also deciding how well schools, teachers, or students do what they are supposed to do.

How do politicians and administrators determine how well schools are doing? They turn to
sample-based learning tests which place no pressure on schools, and by research targeted to understand better how schools work.
There is also a culture where parents think teachers who work closely with them "are the best judges of how well their children are learning in schools."

And teachers are respected.
Finland has created an inspiring and respectful environment in which teachers work. All teachers are required to have higher academic degrees that guarantee both high-level pedagogical skills and subject knowledge. Parents and authorities regard teachers with the same confidence they do medical doctors. Indeed, Finns trust public schools more than any other public institution, except the police. The fact that teachers in Finland work as autonomous professionals and play a key role in curriculum planning and assessing student learning attracts some of the most able and talented young Finns into teaching careers.

Stop there for a moment and consider how different our approach is here. We have a well-established pattern of denigrating public schools and teachers. We have notable voices - Bill Gates, for example - arguing that teachers getting advanced degrees is a waste of time and resources. We have a concerted effort to delegitimize public schools, with moves for vouchers, charter schools run by for profit organizations, hedge funds seeing how turning to charters can lead to profits for their investors, etc. Yet Finns trust public schools more than any other public institution, except the police. Of course, we also don't trust the police in the US, which may indicate some real cultural differences that do not work to our advantage.

There is another important difference from what we have been seeing, because in Finland
School principals, district education leaders, and superintendents are, without exception, former teachers. Leadership is therefore built on a strong sense of professional skills and community.
Here we have the newly announced initiative of the George W. Bush institute to train 50,000 people with no prior educational work experience as principals running school, we have the effort5s of Eli Broad and others to take business executives and train them as superintendents running district. At a more basic level, we have a variety of programs, of which Teach for America is the most notable, giving young people 5 weeks of intensive training and then placing them in classrooms, with a commitment that is not required to be longer than 2 years. I might add to what Sahlberg writes that in Finland it takes about 2 years of training under decreasing levels of supervision and increasing assumption of responsibility before one is fully responsible for her own classroom.

Sahlberg offers some suggestion for what the US could learn from the Finns. He argues strongly against using choice and competition as drivers for educational improvement, noting
None of the best-performing education systems relies primarily on them. Indeed, the Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation — not choice and competition — can lead to an education system where all children learn well. Paying teachers based on students’ test scores or converting public schools into private ones (through charters or other means) are ideas that have no place in the Finnish repertoire for educational improvement.

He also notes that Finland provides teacher candidates with a government-paid university education - remember that most teacher candidates in this nation have to pay for their own education which can leave them with substantial debt before they begin to earn incomes. Finland provides more support when they move into their classrooms and treats teaching as a respected profession. As he notes,
As long as teachers are not trusted in their work and are not respected as professionals, young talent in the United States is unlikely to seek teaching as a lifelong career.
Please, note carefully the words teaching as a lifelong career. Two years as a means of enhancing one's resume for other purposes is not the same thing, and does not benefit either the students being taught or the nation as a whole, despite news coverage to the contrary.

Sahlberg is blunt - he tells us that "Americans should admit that there is much to learn" from the educational systems of nations like Finland behind whom the US now lags. He thinks it is possible, closing with these words:
With America’s “can do’’ mentality and superior knowledge base in educational improvement, you could shift course before it’s too late.

Let me add one other difference between Finland and the US that Sahlberg does not address. The teaching force in Finland is 100% unionized. Unionization is not in and of itself an obstacle to excellence in education. We should remind those who seek to use things like America lagging in comparisons like PISA not to use unions as an excuse, especially when states with unionized teaching and general work forces tend to outperform schools in right to work states.

The role of unions is different, to be sure. The culture is different, and not just in the respect given unions in Finland, including teachers unions.

Not only does Finland not have the high degree of childhood poverty we have in the US, they also have a far more substantial social safety net, starting with income security for families and medical care for all, two things sorely lacking in this nation.

Thus while I strongly advise we listen to what Salhberg has to offer us about how we can reform our schools, we should also bear in mind that we will not fix all the problems of learning until we are also willing to address the continuing inequities in this nation. Fixing the schools will be insufficient. I note that at a conference earlier this year Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute said that we would be better served taking the money that we could spend reducing the principal/teacher ratio to a reasonable level where you could evaluate teachers, and get much more bang for the buck by taking that money and building a health clinic in schools such as those in inner cities. Rothstein was addressing just one part of the impact that economic inequity has upon students that schools as they are currently constructed cannot address.

Still, I think we can learn from Finland, probably more so than we can from a China or a Korea, both of which are struggling to to change the direction of their schooling away from the test centric places they have been, ironically at the same time that we are going in the wrong direction.

I began by asking you to imagine a nation with excellent schools.

Now I make the same suggestion as does Sahlberg, that we seriously attempt to learn from what Finland has achieved in the past 25 years.

Imagine what we might be able to do with our schools.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Thoughts About Teaching in a Democracy

They are not mine, although I will give my assent to them. I encountered them when reading a book.

Allow me to share them so that you can ponder them, before I tell you the author, because the value of thought should be independent of what we know of the thinker, should it not?

Let me begin with this:

Teaching is powered by a common faith: When I look out at my students, I assume the full humanity of each. I see hopes and dreams, aspirations and needs, experiences and intentions that must somehow be accounted for and valued. I encounter citizens not consumers, unruly sparks of meaning, making energy, and not a mess of deficits. This is the evidence of things not seen, the starting point for teachers in our democratic society.

I assume the full humanity of each -- Jerome Bruner once said that every child is capable of some degree of mastery in every domain. It is our task as teachers to explore with that child in a fashion that does not foreclose dreams, that does not devalue the experiences and life-knowledge with which that student arrives in our classrooms.

Citizens not consumers -- also not merely workers in our economy. If we are a democracy our primary task, especially for social studies teachers like myself, is to prepare students to be participants in our society, which in political science terms is a liberal democracy, and which can remain as one only so long as We the people are prepared to exercise our responsibility for it.

Participatory democracy requires a high level of vigilance and action in its defense and in its enactment.

Note those first two words -- participatory democracy -- it is not a spectator sport, but rather requires our commitment. Our education should have as its most important purpose preparing our students for a life in such a participatory democracy. Without that even their economic futures -- and that of the nation -- may well be in doubt.

Educators, students, and citizens must now press for an education worthy of a democracy, including an end to sorting people into winners and losers through expensive standardized tests that act as pseudo-scientific forms of surveillance; and end to starving schools of needed resources and then blaming teachers and their unions for dismal outcomes; and an end of "savage inequalities' and the rapidly accumulating "educational debt," the resources due to communities historically segregated, underfunded, and under-served. All children and youth in a democracy, regardless of economic circumstance, deserve full access to richly resourced classrooms led by caring, thoughtful, fully qualified, and generously compensated teachers.

Note the key words, in groups.

All children and youth -- we should not be making distinctions based on economic status of the parents or the community

Full access to richly resourced classrooms -- again, lesser economic status should not further deprive some of the chance to experience and use the resources that can open doors and inflame imaginations

By caring, thoughtful, fully qualified, and generously compensated teachers -- Fully qualified does not mean learning on the job after only five weeks of training. Caring means the focus is the well-being of the students, not the future economic and professional status of the teachers. Generously compensated -- well, at least sufficiently compensated that one does not have to take a second job to pay one's bills, and can devote full attention to the meaningful task of teaching.

Do these words resonate with you? The teachers I have asked to consider them all responded positively, even when they did know the source.

They are from the third edition of To Teach: The Journey of a Teacher.

The author is now retired from his university post, after a long period of teaching students from the youngest to his graduate students.

His name is William Ayers.

Yes, that William Ayers.

Does that change your reaction to his thoughts? If so, shame on you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Is there a "Virulent Left-Wing" Bias in Education?

[Cross-posted from Technopaideia]
It's no secret that the people who control public schools are at war with our nation's history, culture and achievements. - Phyllis Schlafly
I’ve recently become interested [again] in the question of whether an allegedly liberal bias in educators and academics has had a large impact on American schools and…through them…on the beliefs of Americans at large.The question has come up most recently because of something my Dad wrote in a comment on a discussion I was having with a couple of my (professor) colleagues on Facebook.  We were talking about the ways in which Kant's philosophy of education (especially his optimism about progress through education) reflected a modern viewpoint, and that that viewpoint had faded with the rise of post-modernism. A colleague asked me if I blamed "po-mo," and I said that I didn't, but instead blamed the reaction to po-mo, and then another asked if Kant could be called "pre-po-mo," or if that was reducible to "mo."  

In any case, we were playing with some of the common tropes in academia. My Dad (with whom I've had a number of heated discussions about politics on Facebook and elsewhere), wrote:  
NOW I know what we conservatives are up against. Thanks guys for enlightening me.
One of my colleagues asked him what he meant by that, and he wrote:
It's not just Big Government, Pubic programs and Tax and Spend that makes the liberal tic. That's just the symptoms. It goes to a deep seeded need to make mankind better and socially equal and they feel that they know better than the public in general what's best for them.

It all boils down to an ideology. You guys will never see my arguments as having any worth to the discussions. I'm trying not to lower myself to name calling but you guys consider yourself to be the elite, the educated ones that knows best. You talk about what you've learned and read and have been lead to believe that there is no alternative to your philosophies in education and to life in general.

No, there is no sinister plot by the Liberal. You truly believe that what you know is the only way. On your side you have most of academics, Hollywood, the media and the Democrats. There's a new meaning, for me, about what a liberal education really is. With each generation of graduates, you're getting exactly what you want in our children. They will think the same as you do.
Now, there's a lot in my Dad's comment that serves as food for thought.  For example, I'm not sure why he believes that me and these particular colleagues think alike (I don't think we do think completely alike, although we are all education professors with a strong interest in furthering our own understanding of the history of ideas and culture in general, and we all know what "po-mo" refers to. Well, okay, I'll admit it, these two colleagues and I are all Democrats).  For another, I don't know why we're more guilty of believing that what we know is the "only way" than any, say, group of Sarah Palin fans (of which my Dad is one).  For a third, I don't really think that a deep-seated desire to make mankind better is the same as thinking we know better than the public in general what's good for them. (Although it's interesting to contemplate the obverse of this conservatives think they know better than the general public that has been allegedly brainwashed by liberals in the educational system? Maybe only when conservatives lose elections to liberals?!?...but I digress.) Those questions aren't what I'd like to address here.

Instead, I'm intrigued by this idea that we academics (educators, teachers) are somehow "getting what we want in our children" and that "what we want" is that they think "the same" as we do.  This is quite an interesting claim, to me.  It seems to imply not only that "we" all think alike and that "we" all have the same desire to produce graduates who think in the same way as "we" do, but it also suggests that we're pretty successful in getting our graduates to think like us.  And since we have "Hollywood, the media, and the Democrats" on our side, we don't even have to be especially effective at schooling the kids in the liberal ideology...we can rely on the culture at large to aid and abet our conspiracy.

Once you look around on the Internets, my Dad's notions here about a liberal conspiracy that includes the schools don't seem unusual.  In fact, it seems to be a pretty common belief.  Here are just a few examples I found in just a few minutes:

1. In an article about the political realities of climate change given the recent elections, it was stated that young people are more likely to believe in global warming than older people are.  The article included this paragraph:
Anthony Watts, a prominent climate skeptic who runs the popular and controversial site “Watts Up With That,” blamed the “liberal” education system for the lack of young climate skeptics. “I suppose such a group would be unlikely because our children are conditioned by textbooks and a generally liberal education process to believe in the [man-made global warming] premise as factual and without question,” he said.
The article went on to address the fact that the older people are, the less likely they are to believe in man-made climate change or in the need for drastic governmental efforts to avoid a catastrophe.  It's interesting that one of the theories offered as to why people seem to change their minds about this as they get older is that they come to understand the economic costs of seriously addressing the issue, and are less willing to pay those costs.  They're also supposedly less alarmist...probably having survived more "the sky is falling" situations in their lives...being a bit jaded, perhaps.  But the fact that older people tend to understand the costs of addressing climate change doesn't--it seems to me--explain why they also don't think these efforts should be made...but I guess I underestimate the degree to which people vote their pocketbooks on things like this.

Watt's view that young people today have been "conditioned by textbooks and a generally liberal education process" is the core of what I'm addressing here.  The implication, of course, is that this has gotten worse in recent years...thus explaining why young people today are more likely to believe a "liberal" point of view (their elders went to school before this bias took hold, perhaps?).

 2. In an opinion piece in the Washington Times in April of this year, Deborah Simmons wrote:
Academia [is] leading young minds in a direction that [will] come to affect every aspect of American tradition and policy. Pity the enemies of liberalism and our children because, well, here we are. Same-sex marriage laws are sweeping the states. So-called medical marijuana laws are, too. The public option almost made it into the health care reform bill, and union demands mean weak-kneed politicians and lawmakers are turning their backs on fiscal conservatism in favor of continuing failed one-size-fits-all education policies. That's the short list.
(Of course, this kind of talk (that our liberal education system is leading the American people to vote in certain ways is...well...only really salient after elections which result in the election of more liberal politicians.  So, after the 2008 elections, the liberal bias of schools seemed particular strong.  After the 2010 elections?  Not so much.)

Simmons goes on to talk about an interview she conducted with David Horowitz:
Mr. Horowitz talked about how "deliberate liberal bias" has ruined America's schools. Teachers unions, he said, are the root of the problem. "They don't want another voice in the room," Mr. Horowitz said. "The teacher unions and the Democratic Party have a monopoly on the public school systems. ... Teachers get paid for showing up. No one in the world gets paid for showing up." And, he continued, "the kids fail and there's no incentive to teach." "Teachers," Mr. Horowitz said, "are overpaid and underworked, and protected ... by the Democratic Party," and unionized teachers will "fight with their last breath."
Teacher bashing and complaining about the liberal bias in curriculum and content seem to go hand in hand.  This begins to explain why many on the right prefer to have schools run by corporations...through charters...most of which aren't unionized.  By reconfiguring schools so that teachers must teach instead of sitting around--the reasoning goes--the schools will be less likely to brainwash the kids...right?  (I'm not sure I get this...the teachers don't work they effectively brainwash the kids? If they worked harder...they would brainwash less? Clearly, there's a view here of what the "real work" of teachers ought to be.  More on this later.  But first, let's go on.)

3. (Okay, I admit, this next one is a low-hanging fruit.) Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly wrote earlier this year on her Eagle Forum about the fight to revise the Texas state curriculum guidelines, titling her post "Texas Kicks Out Liberal Bias From Textbooks." The whole piece is really interesting to me, but I'll just include a few excerpts here:
For years, liberals have imposed their revisionist history on our nation's public school students, expunging important facts and historic figures while loading the textbooks with liberal propaganda, distortions and cliches. It's easy to get a quick lesson in the virulent leftwing bias by checking the index and noting how textbooks treat President Ronald Reagan and Senator Joseph McCarthy.... [The link doesn't exactly prove that textbooks treat Reagan badly...but does cite one book that gave the credit for ending the Cold War to Gorbachev and not book...clearly virulent.  And the alleged expert who was cited about this...a not-so-liberal professor at the University of Dayton who blogs about "the liars in the government-controlled media." The government controls the media?  But I thought it was the liberals who controlled the media...and that conservatives can't succeed in academia... But let's go on...]
In most states, the liberal education establishment enjoys total control over the state's board of education, department of education, and curriculum committees. Texas is different; the Texas State Board of Education is elected, and the people (even including parents!) have a voice. ...
(Parents actually have a lot of control over anyone who has spent any time at all in school board meetings know.  Principals, in fact, have as their primary job keeping the parents from getting so upset about things at school that they begin to call school board members...who control the principal's jobs. In fact, one could say that increased parental control over schools has had a considerably stifling effect on teachers in the past few decades. But that doesn't fit into the "liberal bias" storyline...and it's another story for another time.)

Now that I think about it, Schlafly's editorial is worth quoting at some length:

After a public outcry, the [Texas State Board of Education (SBOE)] responded with common-sense improvements. Thomas Edison, the world's greatest inventor, will be again included in the narrative of American History.[Huh? What's this got to do with liberals and conservatives?]
Schoolchildren will no longer be misled into believing that capitalism and the free market are dirty words and that America has an unjust economic system. Instead, they will learn how the free-enterprise system gave our nation and the world so much that is good for so many people.
Liberals don't like the concept of American Exceptionalism. The liberals want to teach what's wrong with America (masquerading under the code word "social justice" [on which, more below]) instead of what's right and successful. The SBOE voted to include describing how American Exceptionalism is based on values that are unique and different from those of other nations. [Don't all nations think they're "unique" and "different"?  What's exceptional about the American beliefs in their own exceptionalism?]
The SBOE specified that teaching about the Bill of Rights should include a reference to the right to keep and bear arms. Some school curricula pretend the Second Amendment doesn't exist. [From the linked source: "Let me say point blank that one of the objectives of this [federal] curriculum is to eliminate the Second Amendment." There's an interesting side story here about this so-called "federal curriculum," but again, for another time.]
Texas curriculum standards will henceforth accurately describe the U.S. government as a "constitutional republic" rather than as a democracy. [Yes, not a democracy, really. Something to get my preservice teachers to think more about!] The secularists tried to remove reference to the religious basis for the founding of America, but that was voted down. The Texas Board rejected the anti-Christian crowd's proposal to eliminate the use of B.C. and A.D. for historic dates, as in Before Christ and Anno Domini, and replace them with B.C.E., as in Before the Common Era, and C.E.
The deceptive claim that the United States was founded on a "separation of church and state" gets the ax, and rightfully so. In fact, most of the original thirteen colonies were founded as Christian communities with much overlap between church and state.
History textbooks that deal with Joseph McCarthy will now be required to explain "how the later release of the Venona papers confirmed suspicions of Communist infiltration in U.S. government." The Venona papers are authentic transcripts of some 3,000 messages between the Soviet Union and its secret agents in the United States.
And, finally:
It's no secret that the people who control public schools are at war with our nation's history, culture and achievements. Since taxpayers foot the bill, it is long overdue for a state board of education to correct many textbooks myths and lies about our magnificent national heritage and achievements.
(Whew! "At war with our nation's achievements"! Damn, those "people who control public schools" must be a virulent, biased, even nefarious bunch! Who are those people, again?) But let's go on:

4. Here's some excerpts from a blog produced by Intellectual Takeout (ITO), "a non-partisan, educational 501(c)(3) institution [whose] vision is to become a national leader in educating and mobilizing conservatives, libertarians, independents, and progressives [?!?] in order to play a pivotal role in expanding individual and economic freedoms while reducing the size and scope of government."

According to many studies [not cited; see below], bias in academia more often than not is liberal bias. Many professors and students admit to possessing liberal ideologies or Democratic voting tendencies. It is natural and right for liberal students and professors to freely express their liberal philosophies, but is it right for liberal professors to continually advance their ideas in the classroom while squelching all other opinions? No.
As many of the pieces in this section suggest, universities are the breeding grounds for a variety of ideas and thought processes. Students who attend American colleges and universities should be able to gain a well-rounded view of their country, its founding principles, and the ideas – from all points on the political spectrum – that continue to shape and mold its future. Unfortunately, today’s colleges have drifted away from these ideals and become bastions of liberal thought and activism.
I dug a little deeper into Intellectual Takeout, which organizes their "information similarly to most university course offerings," by topics. I was curious that one of the topics under "Education" was "Colleges of Education."  "Hmmm....I thought...this should be interesting..." And so it is.

There are two sub-topics under Colleges of Education. One is about teacher certification, and the other is called "Education and Social Justice." This phrase "social justice," which seems on its face to be a nonpartisan ideal (who is against justice in society?), appears again and again in writings that claim an alleged left-wing bias in schools. (It's also become one of my Dad's favorite phrases when describing the conspiracy toward a New World Order that me, Obama, and our liberal friends are working toward.) The article in Intellectual Takeout explains the phrase's significance:
As has been mentioned numerous times before, the American education system has undergone major changes in the past fifty years as the principles of teacher-directed education have gradually given way to student-centered learning philosophies. [The history of progressive education is certainly an interesting one...but this quick summary seems a bit...simplistic to me.  Anyway....] Although seemingly recent, the changes that have occurred in the classroom were actually initiated many years before in the classrooms of education schools. [ educational ideas certainly achieved a sort of critical the 1940s. So this makes a bit of sense.] The training that occurs in these education schools has a great influence on the social, cultural, and intellectual path that a nation will choose, and due to this fact, it is important to understand what exactly our nation’s education schools are instilling in the minds of our future teachers. The “latest and greatest” education philosophy that education schools are pushing is the central focus of this library section: social justice education.
This is truly interesting.  Now comes a bit of a doozy: 
Social justice education is also commonly referred to as “critical pedagogy.” [Oh boy!] Although its ambiguous titles suggest virtuous American ideals such as truth and justice, its core principles revolve around a pervasive Marxist ideology. Championed by men such as Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, and William Ayers, critical pedagogy seeks to turn students into activists with an anti-capitalist mindset. Education schools are increasingly promoting this idea among their students by encouraging them to reject their “privileged” status, recognize their own racial biases, and focus on the “oppressed” facets of society. Today’s elementary and secondary classrooms are beginning to reflect these ideologies. As a result, American schools are slowly moving away from their old purpose of instilling academic skills and factual knowledge in children and toward a lopsided political indoctrination.
Wow! This is beginning to get a little personal.  I work in a college of education. One of my occasional duties is to teach courses in the  history and philosophy of American preservice teachers (those who are just getting their teaching credentials). The course that I most often teach in that area is called "Social Justice Perspectives on the History and Philosophy of American Education."  (Yes, it is!)  Here's the catalog description:

FND 510:  Social Justice Perspectives on the History and Philosophy of American Education (for M.A.T. students)
This course critically examines the social, cultural, political, and economic forces, and the philosophies of education that have influenced policy, laws, school structure, and practices throughout the history of American education. Issues addressed include ability and disability, race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Students lay the foundation for the development of a personal philosophy of education and reflectively examine issues of education from legal and social justice perspectives. This course includes a field project requiring at least 15 hours of work outside of class. 3 semester hours
Notice the key phrase "critically examines..."  On the very face of it, this seems to confirm ITO's view.

What's more, the National College of Education's conceptual framework includes the following:

NCE Faculty and candidates use scholarly habits of mind and methods of inquiry in order to affect P-12 student learning by:
  • Envisioning, articulating, and modeling democratic and progressive education
  • ... 
  • ...
  • Advocating for democratic values, equity, access and resources to assure educational success for all
I think this is what we faculty members in the National College of Education at National-Louis University mean by "social justice."  Social justice, to me, and to my colleagues, means working for a society that is democratic...where every child has access to a quality education.  This means paying attention to the social, political, and economic conditions that affect the quality of schools and that impact the experience that children have in school. It involves attention to what has come to be known as "culturally-relevant" pedagogy...which suggests that teachers must be sensitive to the values, traditions, and perspectives of the families that children come from, and the effects that prior experiences have on their experiences in school. (Click here for more on this approach.)

The thing is, none of this suggests that what we want is to create teachers well-versed in what has been called "critical pedagogy." Rather, our goal is helping new teachers to understand the broader social forces that pertain to their work in classrooms with particular children, so that they can be more effective teachers. (Although, we must admit, colleges of education aren't necessarily doing a great job with this; see here for one take on how poor they are.) We faculty members also want our teacher-graduates to be true professionals who use their understanding of history, sociology, and cultural psychology to further the profession and increase the effectiveness of schools and of the American educational system in general.  We most definitely don't believe that teachers should just teach academic skills and factual knowledge...we expect them to know and care about the larger context of schooling and about the daily lives of their students, now and in the future. Thinking critically about education means knowing that education requires more than just getting the kids to be effective in computation and decoding and memorization...and, more importantly, it means more than just teaching lower-income kids to follow orders and upper-income kids to be creative and problem-solve. (Which is what tends to happen in schools; see Anyon, 1980)

Certainly some of us do talk about critical pedagogy in some contexts. Personally, I don't think you can teach a course in the history and philosophy of education without some attention to thinkers who are considered left-wing. Some of us even assign readings, in some contexts, from Freire, Giroux, and Ayers (and...gasp!...even John Dewey!).  But we also assign readings from John Locke, Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, James Conant, and Diane Ravitch, the books of which do not appear on the list of the "Ten Most Harmful Books of the 19th and 20th Centuries" (Dewey's Democracy and Education does, though.) John Locke's Two Treatises of Government even appears on the Ultimate List of Conservative Must-Read Books. He's no "critical pedagogue," as anyone who has compared his Some Thoughts Concerning Education to Rousseau's Emile (for example) can attest.  Actually, I think most teachers of the history and philosophy of education in colleges of education are pretty balanced, overall, because...

...well, because in many of our courses (especially those in the Foundations of Education), we're trying to get our students to think. That's right:  to think.

"But what does "to think" mean?" you ask. "What does having prospective teachers read left-wing ideologues like Freire or Dewey or Rousseau have to do with teaching them to think? Even presenting these thinkers as if they are worth reading is introducing a bias right there, is it not?"

Hmmmm....soooo...let's see: having them read Locke or Jefferson isn't introducing bias?  Or..are you's okay to introduce certain kinds of bias? Or are these thinkers not biased? Some of the other readings I assign my students are clearly biased toward the right: articles by people like William Bennett and Chester Finn, who are known Republicans...and such documents as "A Nation At Risk," a report issued while Reagan was president.)  The goal is to help students to understand the wide range of perspectives on educational topics...not to indoctrinate them to think a particular way!

But as I'm writing this, I'm having an internal conversation that is flowing more rapidly than I'm able to write.  I'm thinking about what I consider to be the purposes of education, of what it means to be educated...of what it means to be a thinker.

And yes, in my conception of an educated person is....a willingness to read the works of people across the political spectrum, and a willingness to think about the variety of perspectives that exist, and a willingness to accept that each of these perspectives offers something important philosophically, historically, and educationally...and that the only way a reader can understand a reading is to understand that any reading reflects the values, experiences, social positions, and...yes...biases of its author.  This is what is meant by critical thinking: gaining the capacity to critique without merely understand without compare and contrast and contextualize while coming gradually to one's own short, to think for oneself.
Critical thinking, in its broadest sense has been described as "purposeful reflective judgment concerning what to believe or what to do." (source)

"But wait! Then you do have a bias," you're thinking.  "Your bias is that multiple perspectives need to be encountered, understood, digested, and then synthesized in the forming of one's own viewpoint.  Your bias is that education is about teaching each person to think for him or herself...rather than to merely accept the values and perspectives of a particular group (their parents, their peers, their community, the government, those in business, multinational corporations). In other words, you are trying to indoctrinate teachers into the view that getting their students to think for themselves is a worthy goal!"

Um, yes: guilty as charged.

"So you would rather have a young person form their own political beliefs than just vote the way their parents want them to?"  Yes.

"So you believe that all young people should be exposed to a variety of values, beliefs, and perspectives in school, and that they should be taught to evaluate these different perspectives critically rather than unquestioningly"? Yes.

"So you believe that there's no right or wrong...that everything is relative...that capitalism is not always great...that Communists shouldn't be ruthlessly investigated and "outed"...that students should understand why the Constitution prohibited the establishment of religion...that they should understand that the Constitution isn't perfect...that it allowed slavery to continue...and didn't let women or poor people vote.?" Well...maybe.

"So you admit a virulent left-wing bias?!?" Um...if by that you mean a set of values about what education consists of and how best to move young people towards a broader understanding of their world, ...then yes, I do.

"And you admit that your colleagues have the same beliefs about these things that you do?" Well, for the most part, yes...we pride ourselves in our commitments to democratic values, as shown in our Conceptual Framework.

"Okay, then: case closed."

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Student Grades, Test Scores, and Rankings

originally posted at Huffington Post

Some want to tie teacher evaluation to student performance on external tests. They may advocate a value-added methodology, which in theory should allow us to rank teachers by how much their students improve. While there are methodological issues about whether we can truly isolate what the teachers have actually contributed to the student performance, I found myself asking, if the way some propose to evaluate teachers is by how much the students improve, why are we not similarly evaluating students? Why do we insist upon artificial levels of performance, determined by percentage scores and weights, as if in converting things to a 100 point number scale, we therefore communicate something meaningful about that student -- s/he performed at an A level, or got a 93 percent overall. Is that really meaningful? Who has done more, the student who begins at a very low performance and then achieves at what we would classify as a C level, or the student who begins with a high A and stays there?

Here, I think of a class many moons ago. There were 27 students in a "Talented and Gifted" class, all 9th graders. 23 finished with final grades of A. Consider several students from that class whose names have been changed to protect their identity.

Natalie was early on getting 94s on my tests and written assignments when no one else was over a 90. I pulled her aside and told her that if she did not improve what she was doing, she would be wasting both my time and hers. She raised one eyebrow, then dedicated herself to her work. Her final overall average would have been around 98 -- and I am not considered an easy grader (an issue to which I will return).

Natalie finished her high school career as our salutatorian, never having a quarter grade other than A. She took 13 Advanced Placement Courses, which gave additional points for the difficulty of the course. She scored 5 (the top possible score) on all 13 AP exams.

Her high school record was "perfect." She was not valedictorian because someone else completed 14 Advanced Placement courses, and thus had a marginally higher Grade Point Average because of the additional weighted grade.

Both students were outstanding. Why do we have to distinguish between them?

We have since had twins finish first and second twice. We ranked one over the other. What is gained thereby?

That long-ago class had some incredibly gifted kids. The one whose performance I most admire was one of the four NOT finishing with an A. John was somewhat outmatched. He was not especially verbal, and his writing was atrocious. His first quarter grade was a D -- an "average" in the 60s. His final grade was a B. But for the second-half of the year, he had done A work, averaging over 90 percent for quarters three and four. His record of D-C-A-A averaged out to a final B.

That is not a fair reflection of what he had accomplished. For half-the-year, he performed at an A level, often higher than students whose final grades were A, but because of his early struggles, the grade on his transcript was that final B, and his overall GPA was affected accordingly. Did we punish him because he took on a more challenging course, and even though he rose to the expectations of the course, saw his grade affected by his early struggles. Does that send a message not to take on courses that might stretch one because of the impact upon grades?

I am a tough grader. Whatever my students can do when they arrive in my class, I expect them to be able to do far more at the end of the year. I wonder if those who had me might have felt disadvantaged because other teachers of such classes were not so rigorous in their demands? Might some attempt to "equalize" different levels of rigor by insisting upon absolutely uniformity in grading? Would that really solve the problem of adequately communicating what a student has accomplished?

I think back to that class. It challenged me as much as any I have taught in my 16 years in a public school classroom. I was prepared to let one student take over the class after two weeks. She is now, after several years of employment, a first-year student at one of the most prestigious professional schools in the nation. I know she will do well, not because of her grades, but because of her willingness to take on challenges, and the experience of rising to meet whatever confronts her. Lisa is one of my favorites, not because of her superb academic record, but because of how much she grew -- and how much she challenged me -- during the year I was her teacher. Similarly, Natalie and John both grew. He grew most of all because he started with less-developed skills.

His grade does not fairly represent what he accomplished. Natalie, being ranked second in her class, is at least on the surface, somewhat unfair. Even Lisa's superb academic performance does not indicate how much she grew as a student and person in her years at our high school. I was delighted to write her recommendations for her college applications because I could thereby explain some of that. I wonder why we cannot have similar narratives for all our students as a part of their record, for each course.

If our tests are supposed to measure what a student really knows and can do, why are they heavily multiple choice? Why are they timed, thereby giving an advantage to those who can think quickly, even if no better than those who want to reflect? Do the results accurately reflect what a student can do in the real world?

Why do we insist upon comparing students to one another? Should not our challenge be to have each student rise as high as s/he can, to perform as well as s/he can?

Why do we not simply have two grades -- needs improvement and meets the requirements? Why should students not be allowed to learn from their mistakes and gain credit for self-correction?

I wrestle with these issues. Our school keeps score. We rank. Do my students suffer because my standards are high?

There are many things we should rethink about our public schools. Should issues like those I raise be part of the discussion? How much does how we assess, grade, and rank our students do them a disservice?

Natalie, Lisa, and John. I can still remember them as individual students, not merely as the grades they achieved. Cannot we rethink what we are doing so that we will truly know what our students have learned and can do, and be able to describe them accurately as more than scores on tests or cumulative GPAs? Is not each child entitled to something more than that?

I hope so.

Friday, October 15, 2010

This teacher reacts to seeing "Waiting for Superman"

crossposted from Daily Kos for which it was first written

Friday schools across Maryland were closed, so I went to the first show at Noon.

On the way home I thought long and hard about what I would say.

No matter how I parse it, my reaction has two key points.

1. Davis Guggenheim feels guilty about not sending his kids to public schools, and the result is a film which basically trashes public schools, public school teachers, teachers unions, while unjustly glorifying Geoffrey Canada, Michelle Rhee, charters, Kipp, and union busting.

2. The film is intellectually dishonest, so much so it is laughable.

I will explain my reactions.

Guggenheim admits his sense of guilt. He talks about his admiration for teachers. He reminds us of his 1999 film "First Year" about dedicated teachers. He shows us video of driving past four public schools to take his child to a PRIVATE school (note, NOT a charter school). But we never are given any specifics. We are not even told if any of those is the public school his child would have attended. He uses his skill with films to have us infer that none of the four does a decent job of instructing kids, and that his child would have to attend one of them. But we are given NO data to support such an inference.

The film focuses on children trying to get into charter schools via lotteries. Yet at the end, in the text after all the emotion has been wrung out of the viewing audience, Guggenheim is at least honest enough to tell us that lotteries are not the answer. If they are not, why not show us schools that are? Why is not a single successful public school shown? Might that undermine the propaganda that is being put out to manipulate the viewer in a particular direction? Might that make the viewer less likely to text in support of the agenda that Guggenheim puts forth?

I said the film is intellectually dishonest. I will not go through all the examples I could cite: I do come to this "review" late, and many others have dissected the various problems with the film.

Let me cite several. Jay Mathews advocates for KIPP on the basis of the raise in the percentiles on reading scores. Yet that ignores a chunk of data. First, those being tested do not include all those who entered KIPP schools - at least a portion of KIPP schools have an unfortunate tendency to "counsel out" students who would not score well. Second, it is not yet clear that the gains in test scores that are reported persist further up the educational ladder when the students leave KIPP. Finally, the independent study (by Mathematica) that Kipp likes to cite says only 10% of KIPP schools perform better than the public schools from which they draw. That is actually a worse percentage than charter schools as a whole, as was seen in the CREDO study, where 17% of charter schools performed better but 37% performed worse.

From Canada we constantly heard that the system was broken, and on the whole we were intended to draw the conclusion that public schools are not working. Yet even Eric Hanushek is quoted in the film as saying something quite different: that if we could replace the worst performing 5 to 10 % of teachers, our schools would be performing at the same level as Finland, the highest scoring nation in the world. Finland, however, has a far lower rate of children in poverty than does the US, and that difference accounts for much of the difference in performance. But Finland also has a 100% unionized teaching force, which seems relevant to mention if Finland is supposed to be the standard by which we judge our performance, especially when we are constantly bombarded with "facts" about how unions are the problem.

Consider - we are given comparative statistics for lifting of licenses for doctors and lawyers versus only 1 in 2,500 Illinois teachers losing their teaching certificates. But that totally ignores the large number of teachers who leave before they get tenure, many of whom are low performers. Why go to the expense of legally lifting a certificate when the person is no longer teaching? We lose almost half of teachers in the first 5 years. If only 1/2 of those are substandard teachers, then the rate of substandard teachers leaving is higher than the 5-10% Hanushek says is necessary to replace, and not only 1 in 2,500. And by the way, Hanushek never gives any evidence that the replacements would be any better.

That raises another interesting point. By his own admission in the film, Geoffrey Canada was NOT even a satisfactory teacher his first two years. He said he didn't begin to hit his stride until his 3rd year. Elsewhere, but not in the film, Michelle Rhee has acknowledged that she was a horrible teacher her first year and half. She came out of Teach for America. Both of these people, offered as models for what we should be doing about education, demonstrate something very well known - that as a nation we do a poor job of preparing our teachers and inducting them - bringing them into the classroom. Finland does so over several years with decreasing amounts of supervision and increasing levels of individual responsibility for the new teachers. Finland offers a model which works. Teach for America, by the words of Rhee and Canada, is not what we should depend upon. And if we were to summarily fire 5-10% of teachers only to replace them with additional novices, there is no evidence this will improve student performance.

Let me also note what I consider the most disturbing image in the film. It is used as a set-up to bash teachers. We see a teacher peeling back skulls and pouring knowledge into the heads of students. Later, as the words we hear are bashing unions and union rules, we again see the teacher pouring, only this time she - and it is a she - is pouring her "knowledge" onto the floor, somehow missing the open minds of the students.

This is a horrible model of education. It may work for drill and kill to raise test scores. It does not result in meaningful long-term learning or the development of an ability to continue learning independently. It may not be intellectually dishonest, but it is a distorted understanding of teaching and learning.

What is intellectually dishonest is what the film says about tenure. The film somewhat misrepresents the development of tenure in post-secondary institutions. It is totally wrong when it describes tenure for public school teachers as a life-time guarantee of a job. All tenure does is require due process according to contract rules mutually agreed to by unions and school boards. Note the two parts to this: due process, and mutually agreed to. The portion of the film with Jason Kamrad is used to imply that it is almost impossible to dismiss a tenured teacher. In fact it is not, rubber rooms not withstanding, if administrators follow the rules and document. This is no more difficult that convicting criminal wrongdoers in the justice system when the police and the prosecution follow the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Petty dictators and inexperienced leaders might not like following the rules. Michelle Rhee dismissed a batch of teachers ostensibly because the city could not afford them, but replaced some with people from Teach for America. When she got caught she talked about a handful who rightfully should have been dismissed (although that could easily have been done under proper procedures) while implying that all of the dismissed teachers had similar problems. That was not honest.

Her track record also is not as rosy as the film portrays, although on this I would refrain from accusing that portion of intellectual dishonesty, because the inconsistency of score performance became publicly apparent only after the film was in editing. Still, questions had been raised about the performance at the time Mayor Fenty and Chancellor Rhee were touting the scores as proof that their approach was working.

Perhaps the most intellectually dishonest portion of the film is the presentation of Geoffrey Canada. Let me be clear: I believe Canada is absolutely correct in providing what are known as wrap-around services, including medical and tutoring and family support. What the film implies is that Canada is obtaining better results applying the same or similar resources, and somehow if others would take his approach, which includes his insistence on no union and the ability to fire any teacher, all would be well.

Let's try the reality. As it happens, on this the New York Times has a recent piece that is quite appropriate, about which many have now commented. Titled Lauded Harlem Schools Have Their Own Problems, the piece appeared on October 12. In it we learn that the schools in Harlem Children's Village have per pupil expenditures of $16,000 in the classroom and thousands more outside the classroom. The average class size in the Promise Academy High school is about 15, with two licensed teachers per class. Stop right there, and think about the image of most urban schools: how often do you see as few as 20 students per class? How rarely are there two adults to deal with what is often 30 or more students?

Despite that, Canada's track record is spotty. In the film we hear about the commitment he makes to the parents, which in the Times piece is framed as "We start with children from birth and stay with them until they graduate." Perhaps we should read about the first cohort of Promise Academy I, which opened in 2004:
The school, which opened in 2004 in a gleaming new building on 125th Street, should have had a senior class by now, but the batch of students that started then, as sixth graders, was dismissed by the board en masse before reaching the ninth grade after it judged the students’ performance too weak to found a high school on. Mr. Canada called the dismissal “a tragedy.”

Somehow dismissing an entire cohort does not bespeak a model that I would want to emulate. Nor does it demonstrate that Mr. Canada is the sparkling example the movie would have you believe. Allow me to quote what Walt Gardner posted about Promise Academy I in this blog at Education Week:
Even now, most of its seventh graders are still behind. Only 15 percent passed the state's English test. Their failure to perform resulted in the firing of several teachers and the reassignment of others. Although 38 percent of children in third through sixth grade passed the English test under the state's new guidelines, their performance placed them in the lower half of charter schools in the city and below the city's overall passing rate of 42 percent.

As a piece of propaganda pushing a flawed vision of education, "Waiting for Superman" is brilliant - it manipulates emotions, it takes facts out of context, it misrepresents much of the data it uses and is less than accurate in its portrayal of key figures, most especially in its portrayal of Canada.

I have not yet cited the biggest example of its intellectual dishonesty. That would be what is NOT in the film. There is not a single example of a successful traditional public school, whether in troubled neighborhoods - and they do exist - or in places like suburbs where many of our schools perform at levels as high as in any place in the world. Instead it allows Canada to paint with a broad brush, saying "the system is broken" and implying that ALL of American education is failing.

It is not. Even by the flawed measure of test scores, the current administration wants to target 5% of American schools. Not all schools are dropout factories.

Too many are. They are for the reasons they have often been - they teach other people;'s children, the children of the poor, those of color, those who do not speak English at home.

It does not have to be this way.

The film is wrong when it wants you to believe this is a new phenomenon. There was no idyllic time in inner city schools, certainly not in the 1970s, which is again an impression the films wants to give you. After all, it was because children of the poor were being systematically deprived of the right to an education that Lyndon Johnson pushed for and signed the first version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the mid 1960s. That had not magically changed things within the next five to ten years.

At the end of the film the text that appears on the screen says we know what to do, then offers the usual bromides of so-called reformers of more accountability, more assessment, higher standards, and the like. This has been the pattern at least since the Reagan administration. If this were the correct path, why a quarter century after A Nation At Risk are we hearing the same things, only more so?

Let's be clear. Raising the bar of 'standards' will do nothing to improve the educational performance of a child not achieving the current, apparently too-low standards. It may in fact merely increase the number of drop-outs.

If Geoffrey Canada can, with foundation money, provide all those wonderful trips for his students, plus teacher-student ratios in the classroom of better than 1-8, perhaps we might consider what we need to do to provide for the students in our regular public schools, who are often at a classroom ratio of better than 30-1, who do not have foundation and hedge-funds paying for their field trips. Canada has a spanking new building, modern, fully equipped. Many of our young people are in buildings more than half a century old, with leaking roofs, with no doors on bathroom stalls, sometimes with no toilet paper unless they bring it themselves. Just the difference in externals like this delivers a powerful message about which kids we really care about, and they know it.

If you knew nothing about American education except what you gleaned from watching "Waiting for Superman," you would have a totally distorted understanding both of the status of American public education and of what really makes a difference for young people. That inevitably distorts the public discourse on this important national issue. Of course, the intent of propaganda is to drive discussion in a pre-decided direction, whether or not that direction is either necessary or justified by the real facts on the ground.

The film is intellectually dishonest. Most of those who know about education, especially those who know the reality of what has worked and can be scaled up, have increasingly been speaking out and writing against the glorification of the film, and the vision it pushes, and those it attempts to lionize.

And Davis Guggenheim? He admits his sense of guilt. On that he is at least partially honest. What he has done in this film should not, however, allow him to feel as if he has expiated his sense of guilt, for this film has done real damage to the public discourse over education, and made it harder to get to the kinds of real reform necessary so that none of our children are left in failing schools. I long for such a day that all experience fully the right, the opportunity to learn. That will not happen by busting unions, propagating charters, all the while we ignore the increasing economic disparity, and the unfortunate reappearance of racism. Couple this with the attitude of some of an unwillingness to pay for public services for which they do not personally benefit and you will see an increase in the number of students who are not well served by our public schools - we will damage many that are currently working.

As bad as it may be now, things like "Waiting for Superman" merely make it harder to move towards the changes we truly need. I fear that will be its legacy, and that would truly be tragic.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New Book: Social Class, Social Action, and Education: The Failure of Progressive Democracy

Shameless self-plug. My first book just came out. You can read the introduction here. Find it here.

Middle-class progressives in the early 20th Century wanted to transform a corrupt and chaotic industrial America into an "authentic" democracy. But they were led astray by their privilege. Focused on enhancing the voices of individuals, generations of progressives remained blind to the rich culture of "democratic solidarity" infusing labor unions and organizing in poor communities. This book traces the problematic evolution of progressive democracy in America, focusing on schools as a key site of progressive practice. At the same time, it examines alternative strategies for developing more empowering approaches to democratic education and collective action.

"Anyone interested in the history of educational reform and the link between progressive education and other social movements should read this book. In his analysis of progressive education Schutz combines a philosopher's sensitivity for contradictions with a historian's understanding of the way these contradictions worked out in the real world. The result is a highly readable, theoretically penetrating treatment of the possibilities and limitations of Dewey's educational philosophy and the progressive education movement. Schutz brings his analysis up to date, showing how progressive education's limitations as a reform movement were addressed in practice by the strategies of community organizers and Civil Rights leaders."--Walter Feinberg, Charles Hardie Professor, Emeritus of Educational Philosophy, The University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana

"This is an important and much needed addition to the existing literature on Dewey and Progressivism and the future/fate of Progressivism in the new millennium. The author's interdisciplinary approach is highly effective and one of the book's many strong points. Indeed, it is especially appropriate in discussing Dewey (who wrote very broadly and was widely read) and the first part of the twentieth century."--David Granger, Professor of Education, SUNY-Geneseo

"The link Schutz makes from little known schools of early Progressivism to Sixties alternative education is fascinating. He is excellent at revealing the forbears of what is seen as new and radical."--Heidi Swarts, Assistant Professor of Politics and International Studies, Rutgers University-Newark

Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Bunker Mentality Among Inner-City Chicago Youth

Miller McCune reports on a study by Mario Small about Chicago youth, arguing that the violence of these neighborhoods destroys trust on a very basic level. Youth have "associates" not friends.

What does this do to any even minimal hope for collective empowerment in these areas?

[See Small's website for links to a range of other really important work.]
Small said they were floored when they found that a kind of “bunker mentality” held sway at both schools, even to the point that the children, both boys and girls, routinely tested their peers and were conducting “background checks” to see whether they could be trusted, cross-checking their dependability with classmates and watching them for months and years.

“It sounded like a warlike situation,” Small said. “I really don’t want to sensationalize this. But, frankly, it is so pervasive among our interviewees and so powerful that I don’t think the analogy is inappropriate. Violence is pervasive in the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago. There are lots of pretty serious beatings, and the 13- and 14-year-olds are already starting to become victims. At this age, the children are still learning how to negotiate their neighborhoods on their own.”

One girl said she invited a classmate to a party and staged a fight with someone else to see if the classmate would intervene to defend her. Another girl, a seventh-grader, said she planted false gossip with people she was “watching” in order to test them. If she heard the gossip going around, then she knew those people were not her true friends.

You “start knowing you don’t need many friends,” a 15-year-old said. “You have friends but don’t let them in too close, unless you’ve been with them forever. Somebody you just met two years ago, nn-mm, don’t let them in too close…”

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Good Stuff on Neuroanthropology

A lot of interesting and relevant links on neuroanthropology this week, including,

Christian Jarrett, Power Leads Us to Dehumanize Others

John Lehrer, How Much Should We Practice?
Practice 50% less by “combining periods of task performance with periods of additional stimulus exposure.”

Greg Hickok, More Problems for Mirror Neurons
It’s not all mirrors in the mind

Justin Smith, More on Non-Western Philosophy (the Very Idea)

Martin Robbins, Cocaine Detectors for Parents are a Terrible Idea

Christopher Furgeson, Attempt to Revive Video Game Law a Waste of Money
“Claiming that the research consistently links video games with violence is simply dishonest. My own research, published in peer-reviewed journals in pediatrics, psychology and criminal justice, has found no links between violent video game playing and violent behavior.”

Thursday, September 23, 2010

United States of Poverty

via Real World Economics Blog

-The U.S. poverty rate is now the third worst (above only Turkey and Mexico) among the developed nations tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

-According to one recent survey, 28 percent of all U.S. households have at least one member that is looking for a full-time job.

-1 out of every 5 children in the United States is now living in poverty.

More here.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The problem with NBC's Education Nation - where are the voices of parents and teachers?

cross-posted from Daily Kos

Beginning Sunday, Sept. 26, NBC will be broadcasting a national "Summit" on education, which it has titled Education Nation. There will be panel discussions, an exhibit hall, and it will begin with an electronic town hall with Brian Williams, broadcast live at 12 Noon EDT (so much for people on the West Coast who might be attending religious services). NBC hopes to have several hundred thousand teachers signed up for that town hall.

In theory, one might think what NBC is doing is good - it is a focus on education as a national priority. In practice there are some serious concerns which have already been expressed publicly as well as in numerous communications to people responsible for organizing the event.

Perhaps the most significant concern is this - there are many voices being included, but the voices of parents and teachers are surprisingly not considered a significant part of setting the agenda.

Please keep reading for more details.

On September 13, NBC issued a press release in which it announced the confirmed speakers to date. Here is that list as presented:

• Maria Bartiromo: Anchor of CNBC's "Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo" and Anchor and Managing Editor of "Wall Street Journal Report with Maria Bartiromo"
• Michael Bloomberg: Mayor, City of New York
• Cory Booker: Mayor, City of Newark, New Jersey
• Phil Bredesen: Governor, State of Tennessee
• Steven Brill: co-founder of Journalism Online, CourtTV and American Lawyer magazine and author of “The Rubber Room” In The New Yorke
• Tom Brokaw: NBC News Special Correspondent
• Geoffrey Canada: CEO & President of Harlem Children's Zone Project
• David Coleman: Founder & CEO, Student Achievement Partners; Contributing Author of the Common Core Standards
• Ann Curry: News Anchor, "Today" and Anchor, "Dateline NBC"
• Arne Duncan: US Secretary of Education
• Byron Garrett: CEO of the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA)
• Allan Golston, President, US Program, The Gates Foundation
• Jennifer M. Granholm: Governor, State of Michigan
• David Gregory: Moderator, "Meet the Press"
• Reed Hastings: Founder & CEO of Netflix
• Lester Holt: Anchor, "NBC Nightly News," Weekend Edition and Co-Host, "Today" Weekend Edition
• Walter Isaacson: President & CEO of the Aspen Institute
• Joel Klein: Chancellor of New York City Schools
• Wendy Kopp: CEO and Founder of Teach for America
• John Legend: Musician; Founder of the Show Me Campaign
• Jack Markell: Governor, State of Delawa
• Gregory McGinity: Managing Director of Policy, The Broad Education Foundation
• Andrea Mitchell: NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent and Host, "Andrea Mitchell Reports"
• Janet Murguia: President & CEO of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR)
• Michael Nutter: Mayor, City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
• Bill Pepicello, Ph.D.: President of University of Phoenix
• Sally Ride: First Female Astronaut; Vice-chair of Change the Equation
• Michelle Rhee: Chancellor, District of Columbia Public School System of Washington,D.C.
• Edward Rust: Chairman & CEO of State Farm Insurance Companies
• Gwen Samuel, CT delegate to Mom Congress
• Barry Schuler: Former CEO of AOL
• Sterling Speirn: CEO, Kellogg Foundation
• Margaret Spellings: Former US Secretary of Education
• Antonio Villaraigosa: Mayor, City of Los Angeles, California
• Randi Weingarten: President of American Federation of Teachers (AFT-CLO)
• Brian Williams: Anchor and Managing Editor "NBC Nightly News"

For many of us, that list was more than a little unbalanced, and illustrates much of what is wrong with discussions of education policy in this nation. There are many corporate executives, there are people from educational policy organizations, there are politicians, there are foundations. There are journalists. Many of these lack any real knowledge about education, or are well known for pushing a particular view of education to the exclusion of any other.

There are more than 30 names. Of these two are from parent organizations, and there is one representative from the smaller of the two national teachers unions.

Where are the voices of parents?

Where are the voices of those actually teaching?

I have been privy to an exchange of emails between some notable people who raised these concerns and those responsible for recruitment and outreach.

I know that there were strong urgings to reach out to teacher leaders. As far as I can tell, most of those whose names were suggested - and emails were provided - were NOT contacted from the side of NBC. I know, because mine was a name on that list.

I would not necessarily expect to be included on such a list. My one recent teaching award is probably not of a great enough significance to justify inviting me, and my feelings are not hurt.

But why is the first name we see the head of a for-profit university, yet we see no current classroom teachers?

Let's take the presence of the University of Phoenix, and several of the other people on that list. Perhaps it can be explained in part by looking at the sponsors of the event. You can find the list on the website, but let me save you the time:

University of Phoenix
Members Project American Express
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation
W.K. Kellog Foundation
American Airlines

The commitment that NBC is making is notable. The corporate and foundation commitment might be commendable. But I cannot resist making some remarks about that list.

About the Members Project, they have funded two education initiatives this year, and Jumpstart for Young Children, based on the votes of those who have American Express Cards. They do not have a person among the speakers, which is probably appropriate.

University of Phoenix is a SPONSOR - and for this they get one of the speaking slots?

The foundations of Gates and Broad have been putting a lot of money into education. They have thereby become major players, able to shape many policy initiatives to their perspective. Some of the efforts might be positive, but there has been a tendency for that point of view to crowd any that might be critical of their efforts, which include things such as Teach for America (note the presence of Wendy Kopp among the speakers, and remember that Michelle Rhee is a TFA alumna) and New Leaders for New Schools. Diane Ravitch uses the term "Billionaire Boys Club" to question the influence of such foundations upon American educational policy.

Why is Stephen Brill one of about thirty speakers and no classroom teacher is?

Why do we not have the voice of say the immediate past National Teacher of the Year, Anthony Mullen, or even the current National Teacher of the Year, Sarah Brown Wessling? To be NTOY one is not only an excellent teacher, but expected to serve as spokesperson for the nation's teachers. Surely one, or better both, of these fine teachers could have been included.

For those who are teachers and want to participate in the Town Hall, you can go to this link to learn more and to sign up.

I have not yet done so. I do not know if I will. I am unwilling to serve as passive wallpaper that can be used to claim support for an effort with which I have serious problems.

One can submit a question to be discussed. It is not clear to me how those questions will be screened. I worry that those that might challenge the underlying assumptions of the summit will be excluded.

I looked at the mission statement for Education Nation. It is appropriate to note our high dropout rate. As I have written before, I think the emphasis on international comparisons demonstrates a misunderstanding of what those comparisons represent. I find too great an emphasis on the economic purposes of education and a total lack of the role of education in preparing a person to be a citizen in a democratic republic. Given the importance of civic participation in a functioning democratic system, I immediately wondered why Sandra Day O'Connor was not an included speaker, given how hard she has worked to raise the issue of civic education?

It is nice that there is a president of a teachers union, albeit the smaller one. I know that the NEA president will be participating in one of the 11 announced panels. But teachers are not their unions. Some of us may even be union activists but feel that our unions do not address some of the real issues we believe need to be addressed. Having one union president and so many corporate types does not allow even for the raising of many of the concerns of teachers, which go far beyond issues of teacher pay and evaluation. I have read and heard that the presence of Randi may be to set her up as illustrative of teachers and their unions as obstructionist to real reform.

There are real issues in American education that need to be addressed. We can read about them in the mission statement. We can see that they are supposedly addressed in the panels.

Supposedly. But too many points of view are not included.

Why is there no representation from people who do Montessori work, which has been proven to be very effective?

Some of the organizations and individuals present have supported the work of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Why is there no representation from that organization. For example, why not invite Jolynn Tarwater, the current National Board Certified Teacher in Residence?

The National PTA organization should be included. It is good that Mom Congress has a representative. That is 2 there representing parents. Against that consider there are four mayors and three governors; and top executives of Netflix, the Aspen Institute, and State Farm Insurance, and the former CEO of AOL. Pray tell, why are these voices more important than those of parents?

Or perhaps we can look at those selected to represent the administrators of schools. We see Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee. They represent ONE viewpoint of how schools should be organized and run. And by the way, the data does not support that either has been all that successful, and in the case of Rhee her approach was just fairly strongly rejected in the primary defeat of her boss Mayor Adrian Fenty of Washington. There have been superintendents with notable success who take a far different approach to educational reform. Where for example is the likes of Carl Cohn, who had notable success in Long Beach, CA?

I cannot tell people how to approach this effort by NBC. I only know that I am skeptical. I may watch the town hall with teachers, but as of now I do not plan to sign up. I am unwilling to provide that kind of validation for something I viewed as at a minimum flawed, and at worst destructive of really addressing the needs of our schools and teachers.

I'd like you to imagine the following. Suppose we are going to have a national summit on health care. Do you not suppose that a substantial number of the voices included would be from professionals in health care, including doctors and nurses? Would you have 3 people with just the head of the AMA to represent doctors?

Or how about legal reform - would not lawyers scream if such a conference were organized without a substantial portion of the main participants being members of the profession representing the range of opinions within the legal field?

Why then is it when it comes to education that people think it is appropriate to have major discussions about education without fair inclusion of the voices of those who bear the greatest burden for the education of our children, the parents and the teachers?

I hope that despite the flaws I see in the organization of this effort some good comes out of it. I fear that it is yet another example of driving educational policy while excluding voices that should be a major part of the discussion. Perhaps the town hall will at least provide some audience for the concerns of teachers, if the questions addressed represent the full range of views and concerns.

I hope I am wrong.

I fear that I may not be.

I worry that this event will yet again mean that teachers - and parents - are excluded from meaningful participation in the shaping of educational policy.

Starting next week, we will see.

And there is time for NBC to work to provide greater balance than what we have so far seen.


Friday, September 17, 2010

What Would Happen if Schools Dealt with All the Non Pedagogical Issues?

Most of you have probably seen the (not so) new information on how exercise helps kids learn. What would happen if you took some low-income schools, and without doing anything about pedagogy, did the following:

-increased the amount of PE
-reduced class size to 16
-gave vitamins
-provided nutritious food
-fed them breakfast
-fixed their vision
-fixed their teeth
-provided high quality mental health care (not just medication)
-gave them food to take home if they were worried about eating

and compared these with similar schools where you didn't do anything?

How much of the "achievement gap" would this deal with?

I'm willing to bet these changes would fundamentally change what happened in the schools receiving services and resources. (Whether it would change "achievement measured by tests. . . I'm not sure I really care). I'm also willing to bet that if you compared these schools with schools where you did none of this but worked intensively on pedagogy, you would find that the schools with these targeted services and resources would do significantly better and that the improvements would be much easier to maintain.

But, of course, we're in education. We do pedagogy.

Of course, focusing on pedagogy puts on the blame on those who teach pedagogy and on teachers.

(Note, I haven't gotten to reading the material on the Harlem project, but they also work on pedagogy.)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism

The table of contents from a book coming out in the US in January (available now in the UK). I haven't read it, but I thought this was a pretty interesting conversation starter by itself, perhaps useful for courses. Via real-world economics blog

23 Things they don’t tell you about Capitalism

Thing One. There is really no such thing as a free market.

Thing Two. Companies should not be run in the interest of their owners.

Thing Three. Most people in rich countries get paid more than they should.

Thing Four. The washing machine has changed the world more than the internet.

Thing Five. Assume the worst about people, and you get the worst.

Thing Six. Greater macroeconomic stability has not made the world economy more stable.

Thing Seven. Free-market policies rarely make poor countries richer.

Thing Eight. Capital has a nationality.

Thing Nine. We do not live in a post-industrial age.

Thing Ten. The US does not have the highest living standard in the world.

Thing Eleven. Africa is not destined for under-development.

Thing Twelve. Government can pick winners.

Thing Thirteen. Making rich people richer doesn’t make the rest of us richer.

Thing Fourteen. US managers are over-priced.

Thing Fifteen. People in poor countries are more entrepreneurial than people in rich countries.

Thing Sixteen. We are not smart enough to leave things to the market.

Thing Seventeen. More education in itself is not going to make a country richer.

Thing Eighteen. What is good for the General Motors is not necessarily good for the United States.

Thing Nineteen. Despite the fall of Communism, we are still living in planned economies.

Thing Twenty. Equality of opportunities is unequal.

Thing Twenty-one. Big government makes people more, not less, open to changes.

Thing Twenty-two. Financial markets need to become less, not more, efficient.

Thing Twenty-three. Good economic policy does not require good economists.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Cross-Cultural Research on Human Development

Entire issue on cross cultural human development. Behind pay wall, I'm afraid, but you can see the abstracts. Haven't read it but a summary of some of the material is on Neuroanthropology. Haven't read it yet, but it looks fascinating.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Problems with the use of Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers

originally posted at Daily Kos

If new laws or policies specifically require that teachers be fired if their students’ test scores do not rise by a certain amount, then more teachers might well be terminated than is now the case. But there is not strong evidence to indicate either that the departing teachers would actually be the weakest teachers, or that the departing teachers would be replaced by more effective ones. There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.

That is a quote from the Executive Summary of one of the most important policy briefs about education in recent years. At a time when the Dept. of Education is pushing to tie teacher evaluation and compensation to student test scores, this Economic Policy Institute Briefing Paper (whose title is the same as this diary, and which is a pdf), pulls together the extensive relevant research that demonstrates the dangers of pursuing such a path. Please continue reading as I explore this important document, released at 12:01 AM today, August 29.

First, let me clarify several things.

This is a very long diary. That is because I am trying to reasonably thoroughly cover the contents of an extremely important document. My purpose in doing so is to convince people of the document's importance. Thus I will be perfectly happy should you decide you do not need to further read what I have written below. You can follow the link for the brief (which I have provided you again), download the pdf, and begin reading. The executive summary is only four pages. The brief itself, without the critical apparatus of footnotes and sources, another 17. So if you want, one more time follow this link.

This document has been in the works for several months, and was NOT hurriedly put together as a response to the recent series by the Los Angeles Times which used value-added assessment to label teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Second, the ten scholars whose names are on the document are some of the most eminent in educational circles, including among their midst former Presidents of the American Educational Research Association and the National Council on Measurement in Education, two of the three professional organizations most involved with psychological measurement, of which school-related testing is a subset. One of the scholars, Robert Linn, has not only presided over both of those organizations, he has also serve as chair of the National Research Council's Board on Testing and Assessment. The group also includes the immediate past president of the National Academy of Education, Lorrie Shepard, Dean of the School of Education at Colorado. A brief and applicable curricula vitae of each of the ten authors can be found at the end of the document, and briefer descriptions at the beginning, where each author is listed, along with the following statement:
Authors, each of whom is responsible for this brief as a whole, are listed alphabetically.
An email address is provided for further contact.

The ten authors, alphabetically, are as follows:
Eva L. Baker
Paul E. Barton
Linda Darling-Hammond
Edward Haertel
Helen F. Ladd
Robert E. Linn
Diane Ravitch
Richard Rothstein
Richard J. Shavelson
Lorrie A. Shepard

Let me be blunt. I do not know how anyone who knows the work of these scholars and who reads this brief can accept the idea of placing any stakes as to firing or awarding of merit pay based on the current status of Value-Added Assessment methodologies. The document is thorough. It reviews all the relevant studies, including one not yet in print. Those includes studies by Mathematica for the US Department of Education: by Rand: by the Educational Testing Service; done for the National Center for Education Statistics of the Institute of Education Sciences of the U. S. Dept. of Education; issued by the Board of Testing and Assessment of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education of the National Academy of Sciences, and so on. There are citations from books, from peer reviewed journals.

I am not a scholar. I am a high school social studies teacher. During now abandoned doctoral studies in educational policy I got interested in value-added assessment and devoured what studies there were in the educational literature. I also talked extensively with the technical person for one organization that offered a value-added methodology who cautioned me that the approach was not stable enough for it to be used as the basis for decisions with any kind of meaningful stakes. That was about a decade ago. What I had read since, and what I have absorbed from this study convinces me that the situation is not significantly better now.

But you do not have to take my word for it. Let me offer a few key examples from the study. Those who follow me on Daily Kos already have seen in the study by Mathematica the high rate of error in determining superior and inferior teachers beyond the broad middle. In this diary, written on August 27, I noted that the error rate with 2 years of data was 36%, with 3 years 26%, and even with 10 years of data still 12%.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg of the technical problems with using such an approach.

Without recapitulating the entire brief, let me offer a couple of other key points.

1. Results for individual teachers are not stable:
One study found that across five large urban districts, among teachers who were ranked in the top 20% of effectiveness in the first year, fewer than a third were in that top group the next year, and another third moved all the way down to the bottom 40%. Another found that teachers’ effectiveness ratings in one year could only predict from 4% to 16% of the variation in such ratings in the following year.

2. One key question is whether one is really accounting for teacher effects and excluding other influences in the results one gets from value-added assessment. Jesse Rothstein reported something interesting, about which I quote from the Executive Summary:
A study designed to test this question used VAM methods to assign effects to teachers after controlling for other factors, but applied the model backwards to see if credible results were obtained. Surprisingly, it found that students’ fifth grade teachers were good predictors of their fourth grade test scores. Inasmuch as a student’s later fifth grade teacher cannot possibly have influenced that student’s fourth grade performance, this curious result can only mean that VAM results are based on factors other than teachers’ actual effectiveness.

3. The brief notes that arguments that the private sector evaluates professional employees using quantitative measures that are parallel. The authors of the brief point out that rarely are such quantitative measures the sole or even the primary factor, noting that management experts warning against using such measures for making salary or bonus decisions. They remind us that some of the distortion on Wall Street was the result of emphasizing short term gains that could be easily measured. They also touch on medicine:
In both the United States and Great Britain, governments have attempted to rank cardiac surgeons by their patients’ survival rates, only to find that they had created incentives for surgeons to turn away the sickest patients.

4. Students are not randomly assigned to teachers. While some control for school effects is possible, scholars are reluctant to place any weight on comparisons for teachers in different schools even within the same system. And even within a school, teachers may have varying numbers of students who are learning English or have learning disabilities or are homeless or who move multiple times, each of which is a factor that can affect learning.

5. Sample sizes are often too small. Even if the class makeup stays stable during the year, and all the students show up regularly, the N=30 of a large elementary class is too small a sample to provide a result that can allow strong inferences to be drawn. Often the makeup of the class changes during the year. If you exclude students who were not there all year, or whose absences exceed some designated level, the N decreases, providing a result of even less reliability.

6. Some argue that statewide data banks can address the question of student mobility. But if you derive results on a year or two years of data where the student has moved, how much of the improvement can properly be assigned to any one teacher? Even in elementary school, do we account for pull-out instruction, or possible tutoring (that could in some cases be counterproductive) as a possible influence on the test results upon which we base our analysis?

7. Even with value-added analysis, to date scholars have not been able to isolate the impact of outside learning experiences, home and school supports, and differences in student characteristics and starting points when trying to measure their growth.

8. A proper system of value-added assessment would have vertically scaled tests. Most states do not currently have such tests, for example, neither New York nor California does. That is, the tests in one grade are not necessarily congruent with those of the next along a continuum from year to year - we are not testing the same thing each year. As testing expert Dan Koretz of Harvard is quoted as noting,
"because of the need for vertically scaled tests, value-added systems may be even more incomplete than some status or cohort-to-cohort systems"
Here it is worth noting that cohort to cohort is comparing this year's fourth graders to last years, which is how Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind has been calculated.

9. If measuring end of year to end of year, even if there are vertically scaled tests, there is still the well-documented issue of summer learning loss, which falls disproportionally upon those of lesser economic means, which also means it falls disproportionally upon those of color, who are more heavily represented at the lower end of the economic scale. IF we do not control for summer learning loss, our results are skewed. Allow me to quote a relevant portion of the study:
researchers have found that three-fourths of schools identified as being in the bottom 20% of all schools, based on the scores of students during the school year, would not be so identified if differences in learning outside of school were taken into account. Similar conclusions apply to the bottom 5% of all schools.
The authors also cite a study that shows "two-thirds of the difference between the ninth grade test scores of high and low socioeconomic status students can be traced to summer learning differences over the elementary years."

There is more, but this should give a real sense of how much there is in this paper, how thoroughly the authors examine relevant material to demonstrate that value-added assessment, the supposed magic bullet to allow us to tie student learning back to the effectiveness of teachers, cannot properly fulfill the task some wish to give to it.

The authors acknowledge that value-added approaches are superior to some of the alternatives methods of using test scores to evaluate teachers. These are

status test-score comparisons - compare average scores of students of one teacher to those of another

over change measures - compare the average test results of a single teacher from one year to the next - remember, these are different students

over growth measures - a comparison of the scores of the students of the teacher this year to the scores of those same students the previous year when they had different teachers.

Each of these approaches has serious problems with it. One can read the detailed explanation on p. 9. Value-added assessments may be an improvement, but
the claim that they can “level the playing field” and provide reliable, valid, and fair comparisons of individual teachers is overstated. Even when student demographic characteristics are taken into account, the value-added measures are too unstable (i.e., vary widely) across time, across the classes that teachers teach, and across tests that are used to evaluate instruction, to be used for the high-stakes purposes of evaluating teachers.

Let me offer a few of the quotes about value-added assessment that the authors of the brief offer from scholars who have examined the approach over the years, and then I will offer a few observations of my own.

in 2003, a research team at Rand concluded
The research base is currently insufficient to support the use of VAM for high-stakes decisions about individual teachers or schools.

In 2004, Donald Rubin opined
We do not think that their analyses are estimating causal quantities, except under extreme and unrealistic assumptions.

Henry Braun, then at ETS, offered this in 2005:
VAM results should not serve as the sole or principal basis for making consequential decisions about teachers. There are many pitfalls to making causal attributions of teacher effectiveness on the basis of the kinds of data available from typical school districts. We still lack sufficient understanding of how seriously the different technical problems threaten the validity of such interpretations.

Last year the Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences wrote to the Department of Education saying
...VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used to make operational decisions because such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable.

Finally, this year, a report of a workshop run jointly by The National Research Council and the National Academy of Education offered this:
Value-added methods involve complex statistical models applied to test data of varying quality. Accordingly, there are many technical challenges to ascertaining the degree to which the output of these models provides the desired estimates. Despite a substantial amount of research over the last decade and a half, overcoming these challenges has proven to be very difficult, and many questions remain unanswered...

Let me repeat that last sentence, written this year: Despite a substantial amount of research over the last decade and a half, overcoming these challenges has proven to be very difficult, and many questions remain unanswered...

And yet this administration wants to move ahead with using student test scores, perhaps analyzed through value-added assessment methodologies, as a significant component of teacher evaluation. It is including this as part of the criteria to win Race to the Top Funds. In fairness, the Department does not specify using value-added (although anything else is far worse) nor does it specify what percentage of the evaluation is to depend upon the test scores - both of these decisions are still left to the states, some of which have left themselves wiggle room in their applications, using terms like "significant" to indicate the proportion of the evaluation that will depend upon student test scores.

The original Bush proposal for No Child Left Behind, as it went up on the White House website shortly after the inauguration of the 43rd president, proposed giving a 1% bonus of Title I money to schools that would give parents the value-added scores of the teachers of their students. That, fortunately, did not make it into the final legislation. Now we have the Los Angeles Times action, about which the Secretary of Education has offered a somewhat mixed and confusing response, even as he seems to support the idea of using such evaluations in assessing of teachers. Since the Times story broke we have seen some who write or advocate about education who have praised what the paper did, while others have condemned it. While mine might not be a major voice on education, I find myself very much in the latter camp.

One problem is that too many who write about education are close to ignorant about the limits of the information one can get from various kinds of assessment. We tend to what hard numbers as a society, we are obsessed with comparisons and rankings. In the process we often give far more credence to quantitative measures than they warrant.

I do not dispute that tests, including tests external to the school, have some utility. I also recognize that value-added assessment is beginning to offer some useful additional information. By itself that information is not sufficiently reliable that people's livelihoods should be either solely or heavily determined by the information they provide. They MAY indicate a teacher outside the norm - either well above or well below - but as the various studies you will encounter in this brief demonstrate, that is not necessarily the case, the results are not yet stable for individual teachers from year to year, we do not yet know how to properly control for non-instructional factors that can influence the scores upon which the analysis is based, nor can we properly distribute responsibility for student learning among the different adults who interact with a child at school.

I am a high school teacher. Let me offer a hypothetical - if I do more work in a social studies class on a particular kind of writing and that is what is assessed on the English exam, does the English teacher properly deserve the credit or blame for how students do on that part of the test? Those of us who teach in high school are aware that students often learn about our content either in other classes or from interactions outside of our classroom. Sometimes what they learn is correct and increases their performance in our class, sometimes it is incorrect and undercuts what we are instructing. To date, even value-added assessment is insufficient to control for such influences and allow proper inferences to be drawn about the actual impact of the teacher upon the learning of the students.

I have only explored a small portion of the material in the brief. You can download it without paying. If you are worried about whether you will be able to understand the contents, don't. You can start with the executive summary, in which you will find most of the key takeaways, written in language and presented in a style that is easily accessible. It is a bit less than four pages. The brief itself runs from pages 5-21, followed by three columns (over a page and a half) of footnotes, and 5 columns (over three and half pages) of sources. You can read through the brief without having to check the footnotes, or you can if you want glance at the back to see who is being cited if that is not clear in the text.

Let me clear. The authors are not opposed to value-added assessment. They are not even opposed to it being included in the process of teacher evaluation, although they offer some serious cautions that policy makers would be well advised to consider.

The title is accurate - there are still serious problems with using test scores to evaluate teachers. These problems are not solved by resorting to a value-added methodology.

We need to be careful not to denigrate nor discourage our teaching corps. We will not improve education if the end result of our efforts is to drive away the very teachers who most connect with students, who are able to inspire those students to persist when they are struggling, who are willing to take on the harder to teach. We have other methods of ascertaining whether teachers are in fact effective. We should not be abandoning them in favor of quantitative measures that cannot, as yet, fully carry the load.

The authors of this study have enough prestige that one can hope our media will give some attention to it. Those responsible for educational policy at local, state and national levels are not doing their jobs if they are unwilling to read and be sure they understand the implications of this brief.

That said, and adding that I will try to bring to the attention of as many policy makers as I can, I do not have high hopes that our wrongheaded headlong pursuit of quantitative measures of teacher effectiveness can even be slowed. I will add what voice I have to the efforts of these scholars. Perhaps after you read the brief, you will add yours?