Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ignoring Tuesday

He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday -- no matter what happened on Tuesday. ~Stephen Colbert

Among the most egregious aspects of the corporate education "reform" movement enthusiastically embraced by both the Obama and Bush administrations is the faith-based notion that teacher should be largely evaluated based upon the high stakes standardized test scores of their students.

Let's forget for a moment that these tests are an enormous time, energy, and resource suck: in many places, testing and test prep is pretty much all the kids and their teachers do while in school. And let's also set aside the fact that every study ever done on these tests demonstrate that they fail to test actual knowledge, but rather the socio-economic status of the test takers. And let's also forget about the incredibly narrow slice of education that is even addressed by these test, usually focusing on math and literacy to the exclusion of the entirety of humanities, science, arts, physical, and social education. 

I know that's a ton to set aside, but US Education Secretary Arne Duncan's continued insistence upon using student test scores to pay and fire teachers, no matter what happened on Tuesday, may be the most insane aspect of the entire federal effort. Specifically "reformers" are enamored of using a voodoo statistical trick called "value-add measures" (VAM) which is a formula that purports to take student test scores, then calculate the contribution individual teachers make. It sounds like it might be a good idea, except that time and again, it has been shown to be an unreliable measure of anything. In fact, it's quite common for teachers with outstanding VAM scores one year to wind up near the bottom the next. 

From Valerie Strauss writing in the Washington Post:

The American Statistical Association, the largest organization in the United States representing statisticians and related professionals, said in an April report that value-added scores "do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes" and that they "typically measure correlation, not causation," noting that "effects -- positive or negative -- attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model." This month, two researchers reported that they had found little or no correlation between quality teaching and the appraisals that teachers received using VAM.

Of course, teachers are aware of this, while dilettantish economists and politicians continue to plow-forward with their faith-based guesses about how education works. Teachers know that teaching children is not something that can be reduced to factory floor methodology and efficient turnkey operations. Every classroom of children is different, every child is different, and the circumstances and events that shape their educational attainment are largely outside of our control. Yes, good teachers can and do make an enormous difference in children's lives, sometimes even in ways that show up on high-stakes standardized tests, but much of what we do cannot be measured by a test taken by someone else. Children are not a delivery of blueberries that can be sent back if they don't measure up. To use VAM and other accounting gimmicks to fire teachers and deprive children of dedicated, experienced professional educators is the kind of craziness that comes from ignoring what happened on Tuesday.

When Ms. Strauss asked Duncan if he was aware of the overwhelming research against using VAM to evaluate teachers, he responded that he was. And then, in the same breath, took that opportunity to double down on his support for VAM. Why? I don't think he's evil or crazy, so there must be another explanation.

I've written before that I've come to an understanding this cabal of "reformers" are clearly no longer in this for the purpose of improving public education. It's about competition. Their goal is now simply to win. That's why they are ignoring Tuesday. How else can one explain it?

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1 comment:

Laura said...

It is sadly ironic that the in an effort to have kids be better educated, they use statistical formulas that they themselves are too uneducated to understand.