Rewarding Teacher Performance? Resist the Temptation to “Race to Nowhere”

This guest post is contributed by Kathryn McDermott and Lisa Keller. McDermott is Associate Professor of Education and Public Policy and Keller is Assistant Professor in the Research and Evaluation Methods Program, both at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

On March 29, the U.S. Department of Education announced that Delaware and Tennessee were the first two states to win funding in the “Race to the Top” grant competition.  A key part of the reason why these two states won was their experience with “growth modeling” of student progress measured by standardized test scores, and their plans for incorporating the growth data into evaluation of teachers.  The Department of Education has $3.4 billion remaining in the Race to the Top fund, and other states are now scrutinizing reviewer feedback on their applications and trying to learn from Delaware’s and Tennessee’s successful applications as they strive to win funds in the next round.

One of the Department’s priorities is to link teachers’ pay to their students’ performance; indeed, states with laws that forbid using student test scores in this way lost points in the Race to the Top competition.  A few months ago, James pointed out some of the general flaws in the pay-for-performance logic; here, our goal is to raise general awareness of some statistical issues that are specific to using test scores to evaluate teachers’ performance.

Using students’ test scores to evaluate their teachers’ performance is a core component of both Delaware’s and Tennessee’s Race to the Top applications.  The logic seems unassailable: everybody knows that some teachers are more effective than others, and there should be some way of rewarding this effectiveness.  Because students take many more state-mandated tests now than they used to, it seems logical that there should be some way of using those test scores to make the kind of effectiveness judgments that currently get made informally, on less scientific grounds.

The problem is that even if you accept the assumption that standardized tests convey useful information about what students have learned (which we both do, in general), measuring the performance gains (or losses) of students in a particular classroom is far more complicated than subtracting the students’ September test scores from their June test scores and averaging out the gains.  We’re concentrating on the statistical issues here; there are other obvious challenges in test-based evaluation, such as what to do for teachers who teach grade levels where students do not take tests and/or subjects without standardized tests.

The first problem has to do with class sizes.  In order to compare the score gains among Ms. Jones’s students with the score gains of Mr. Smith’s students, we need to do statistical analyses.*  One thing you learn fairly early in a statistics course is that small populations are tricky, since just a few measurements at the extremes have a greater effect on the mean or other summary statistics.  Experts on educational testing think that a population size of about 30 is necessary for analyses of the average performance of a teacher’s students to be meaningful.  In other words, each teacher needs to have 30 or more students.  Even in these days of fiscal austerity, U.S. elementary-school class sizes are generally not this large.

In middle school and high school, where students have specialized teachers for each subject, teachers work with far more than 30 students in any given term or school year; the norm is probably closer to 100 or more (not, of course, at the same time; each teacher is teaching multiple courses or multiple sections of the same course, and seeing different students during each class period).  Under these circumstances, the conditions for meaningful teacher-level performance analysis are likelier to be met.

Even here, though, there could still be issues.  If all of a middle-school teacher’s 100 students are taking the same general seventh-grade math or English course, it makes sense to aggregate all 100 students’ performance data.  However, if that same teacher has three sections of “General Math 8” and one of “Honors Algebra,” it’s harder to know what the aggregate across all four class section means.  It’s even harder to know how to interpret an aggregate of changes in students’ test scores if a high-school English teacher’s work day includes AP English Literature, remedial English for 10th graders, and two sections of Creative Writing.  The aggregate of the scores for the students in these classes who took the state English test that year might be a blunt measure of something about the teacher’s effectiveness, but it’s hard to say exactly what.  If we wanted to know what kind of job this particular teacher does with the AP or remedial class, we’d be back to the class-size issue, since 30 is a big class even at the secondary level.

The second general problem has to do with how students end up with particular classmates and particular teachers.  Knowing that Ms. Jones’s students gained an average of 6 points on the test and Mr. Smith’s gained 10 might tell us that Mr. Smith is the better teacher, or just that Mr. Smith had students who were able for some other reason to make greater gains that year.  We can only attribute the difference to something the two teachers did if we have reason to believe that the two groups of students were not systematically different from each other.  More formally, we have to be able to assume that the students in the two classrooms are randomly equivalent.  This means that the distribution of general academic ability—before Smith and Jones start teaching on the first day of school—is the same in the two rooms (which is not the same thing as all of the students having equal ability).  Further, it would imply that the students in one classroom would, on average, have the same access to information, have equally involved parents, come from similar socio-economic backgrounds, etc. Although there are statistical tests** that can control for other, specified variables, such as initial ability or socio-economic status, it is impossible to control for all possible variables. These conditions exist only if students are randomly assigned to classrooms.

Anybody with children in school can attest that this assumption does not withstand contact with reality. Even though strict “tracking” has fallen into disfavor among educators, some schools still divide students into fast, medium, and slow classes.  Some school districts still have “gifted” programs that draw the strongest students from across town into particular classes in one school.

Even in schools that do not track their students, many other considerations generate classes that are anything but random groups of students.  At the elementary level, where students tend to spend nearly all day with the same teacher, pushy parents are famous for manipulating their kids into the “best” teachers’ classes.  Because pushy parents’ kids often do better in school, those  “best” teachers are likely to end up with groups of students whose ability to gain in a year might exceed that of the students assigned to their less sought-after colleagues.  Conversely, a particularly thick-skinned principal might engineer class assignments in the other direction, so that the children with the greatest need get the most effective teachers, which would produce the opposite tendency in score gains.  Other factors that have to do with the school’s organization and resources, or with teachers’ various strengths and weaknesses, may also lead to non-random sorting of students.   For example, a particular teacher may be especially good with rowdy boys, or be fluent in Spanish and able to help students transitioning out of bilingual education classes.

At the secondary level, separating students into AP, college-prep, and “regular” versions of core academic subjects is common.  Even in un-tracked secondary schools (like many middle schools), scheduling considerations can produce collections of more, or less, academically able students with more, or less, advantaged parents in particular classes, depending on the patterns in the students’ course selections.  These might cancel each other out, for example if the teachers who get the most able collections of students also get the least able ones, but it is not safe to assume that systematic differences in the characteristics of all teachers’ collections of students will always net to zero.

In both Delaware and Tennessee, students’ test-score growth will be combined with other kinds of information to make judgments about teacher performance.  Considering data from multiple sources will help overcome some of the issues we’ve raised here.  However, looking at “what the numbers say” appeals to policy makers who crave simple indicators of complex phenomena.  Legislators and governors don’t have to pass a statistics exam before taking office, and they haven’t had an especially good record of listening to educational testing experts before they mandate new uses for test results.  For example, the relevant professional associations have jointly endorsed a set of principles on appropriate uses of tests which, among other things, caution against using a particular test for purposes other than those for which its validity has been studied and confirmed.

Despite this caution, policy makers tend to pile extra uses onto tests once they’ve required that students take them—for example, once they’ve got a test that’s been validated as a measurement of individual students’ mastery of grade-level curriculum, they tend to aggregate the results of that test and use them to rate a whole school’s overall performance, as in No Child Left Behind.  The tendency has also been for quantitative performance indicators, even if of somewhat dubious quality, to dominate over other forms of evaluation.  We worry that something similar will happen with the use of student performance in determining teachers’ pay, promotion, or retention.  “The numbers” look objective to people outside schools, while other measures like analysis of lesson plans or documentation of classroom observations seem by comparison to be imprecise means by which the “education establishment” can continue to protect the incompetent.

Educators have welcomed the Obama administration’s willingness to eliminate some of the less logical components of No Child Left Behind, such as the “adequate yearly progress” benchmarks based on unfounded assumptions about how schools improve and on definitions of “proficiency” driven more by political expediency than by an objective definition of what students need to learn in order to succeed in further education and careers.  However, even though we’re now “racing to the top” rather than trying to ensure “no child left behind,” we still risk basing reasonable-sounding policies on unreasonable assumptions and racing (with apologies to Talking Heads) on a road to nowhere.


* Gain scores can be compared through several different statistical techniques. At the most basic a t-test can compare the gain scores of two teachers, and an analysis of variance can compare the gain scores of multiple teachers. More sophisticated methods include ANCOVA where covariates such as the initial ability of the examinee and other factors can be used as a control variable.

** Models such as ANCOVA or regression can be used to help to control for other variables.

78 responses to “Rewarding Teacher Performance? Resist the Temptation to “Race to Nowhere”

  1. Yuck. As bad as system schooling was when I was incarcerated there, from what I read nowadays it sounds horrific. The testing-industrial complex (really a stalking horse for expanding privatization) is just the tip of the corporatist iceberg.

    Not to mention the militarized and police state aspects. From what I read Obama’s crony Arne Duncan was gung ho about bringing the army into the Chicago schools.

    NCLB, the standardized corporate testing model of “education”, privatization, militarization: Here as everywhere else Obama wants to expand the Bush program.

    I’d recommend home-schooling. People need to start home-schooling on an organized level, as part of the general relocalization imperative.

  2. I am trying to imagine what the business world would look like if we based our merit pay for managers based on standardized tests administered to our employees. However, I would have an advantage over teachers as I could fire employees who are poor test takers – teachers don’t get to fire their students. In fact, the opposite is true – in my son’s seventh grade year the students got a teacher fired by purposely failing all of his tests.

    When it comes to the education problem, I have yet to hear anyone state clearly the problem we are trying to solve, therefore I cannot evaluate whether any given proposal will be effective. All statistics do is tell you where to look.

    I was lucky enough to send my son to an excellent public high school. I do know that way too much class time (about 3 weeks per year) was used taking standardized tests – state and federal. All standardized tests test is one’s ability to take standardized tests – that’s why there is an industry devoted to teaching kids how to take the SATs. The most likely outcome from standardized testing will be a generation of graduates who are good at taking tests. I fear we are just as likely to mess up the effective schools as we are to fix the ineffective ones.

  3. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that we’re not on a “road to nowhere” and that we end up discovering some valuable facts in this whole-population size epidemiology-style study.

    What we might end up with by measuring everything about both the kids, the teachers, and the way classes are taught is a kind of “profile” theory of marginal benefit. “Put kid of type-A with a teacher of type-B in class C taught in style D and achieve mean result E with distribution F”, etc…

    Let’s say you could also get good information on market rates of compensation and benefits needed to recruit and retain teachers of each type.

    Then it would be conceivable that you could produce a “maximum net value added” equal-marginal-rate-of-substitution under a budget-constraint scenario, and have enough information to “solve the equation” of how to place your kids, what to teach them, which teachers to hire, how to pay them, and so on.

    This looks at a school system as kind of an efficient welfare-increasing machine which takes a certain population of kids and a certain budget of money as inputs and tries to output the most valuable young adults it can, depending on whatever way we choose or develop as a metric for that “value”.

    I submit a haphazard guess – that the solution to this equation in terms of differential pay for “quality vs incompetent teachers” will have diminishing returns instead of increasing returns.

    Many people operate under the assumption that a few “superstar” teachers perhaps need to be paid much more than average, but I’m guessing instead that the effect saturates at high quality. At low quality though, low-benefit teachers salaries maybe should be quickly reduced with declining performance until they remove themselves by attrition (Perhaps by ‘malus’? No, the unions will never go along with that.)

  4. College Prof

    One other thing that concerns me is that even if you made it over all of these other hurdles for statistical significance and controlled for all these different variables, it is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING how a randomly-selected population of 20 or 30 or 45 students can vary from one class to the next, one semester to the next. I teach intro survey courses required for all students in the college, and their distribution into my classes is fairly random. Some things hold true semester after semester — 10 a.m. classes do better than 1 p.m. classes (they’re all asleep after lunch); weekend classes tend to be weaker performers (they’re working full-time) — but I can teach a class in the same time slot semester after semester, with the same number of students and the same approximate distribution of race, gender, major, age, GPA, etc., and one class will be a classroom of superstars, and another will be full of duds. And how the class interacts is another powerful predictor; I’ve had one or two students poison the atmosphere for participation for the whole class.

    I’d really want to look at several years of data, at the very least, for a particular teacher, since some years she might have a classroom full of duds or superstars.

  5. “…Duncan was gung ho about bringing the army into the Chicago schools.”

    What are you referring to?

  6. Since success is based on statistics, it is fair to point out the difficulties in establishing a meaningful accounting of a teacher’s ability. This is a good post.

    However, a great post would offer alternatives. What are some better ways to establish benchmarks for teacher performance? Are there any statistical measures or techniques that we should be researching? Is anyone working on these questions?

  7. Reward the students with cash according to their progress. Along with testing the usual subjects, grade them for growth in emotional intelligence and social maturity. Then — having motivated them to want a teacher who really can teach — allow them to grade the teacher, and this grade can give the teacher a substantial bonus each semester, on a sliding scale, say from zero to $10,000. Try this in one district as an experiment, and I am sure the results would be amazing. I am sure it would pay for itself all things considered. Of course, this is a bit too much democratic empowerment for the training of future wage slaves — so it will never be tried.

  8. mondo pinion

    Martin Henry, is this an alternative perhaps?

  9. Cash-for-grades is being actively tried in New York City, but I’m not sure what the results have been so far. I like the idea for a couple of reasons: 1.) it gives immediate motivation to kids who haven’t made the connection between their studies and their long term success, and 2.) it raises the prestige of successful students (who are looked down on in under achieving areas).

    I’ve heard people argue against this kind of scheme because it offends their wish for children to learn out of their love for learning instead of more mercenary impulses. My feeling is that the learning comes first, and only a bit later does the love for learning come. Concrete rewards for performance could help jump start the process, especially in places where the social support is weak for studying hard.

  10. My parents being both teachers at one time, the fundamentals remain–teachers need the support of the community as well as from the parents of these kids. “Race to the top” is another ‘political answer’ to the continuing problems plaguing various aspects of the educational system.

  11. Could someone give me the Mean, Mode and Standard Deviation derived from the articles underneath?

    The Disadvantages of an Elite Education
    http://www.theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/

    +

    That Old College Lie
    http://www.democracyjournal.org/article.php?ID=6722

    Σ

    = ?

  12. mondo pinion

    Just a couple of thoughts:
    — twelve years is a looong time to labor away at something for a future promise, and that promise by no means guaranteed. Sometimes they would feel like disempowered fools to be jumping through all those hoops.
    — and love of learning comes when one is free to learn what one chooses, and when, and how– not what is dictated by others.
    — the real kicker is the idea of allowing students themselves to rate and reward the teacher — I think it would create a feedback loop and bring out the best in teachers, and give students a taste of what they are working for in the future.

  13. Race to the Top is so misguided, it will leave scars throughout our nation for years to come!

    Test scores may also reflect the emotional content of the test taker, and as adults know, children may or may not wish to perform for a teacher, a school, or a community from which they may feel alienated! Making patterns on the bubble answer sheets is not beyond the reactionary emotions of a minor!

  14. Perhaps it is no longer true that principals, teachers and students (especially the brightest ones)know who are the best teachers in the school, and who are the worst teachers. Each of us who works in the private sector knows that we can be “out the door” for poor performance—and sometimes for nothing more than having the misfortune to have a personality that clashes with that of the boss. The private sector does not require PhD’s and statisticians to build a case for dismissal, let alone for merit pay.

    No other profession has a union. Have you ever heard of the physicians’, dentists’, or attorneys’ union? Unions are for tradespeople and skilled/unskilled “workers.”

  15. Come on. This is taken from a William Gaddis novel, right? Tennessee? Did they name the award after Scopes? Or perhaps after Snopes? How are the kids doing in creation science?

    Everybody knows the idea with school is to survive it. Why not reward the teachers with the smallest number of drug overdoses, suicides, homicides, pregnancies, felony arrests?

    At least it is nice to know that corporatist stupidity and arrogance and manipulation and deceit are not limited solely to finance. Children should get a chance to experience it and the earlier the better.

    Just received a notice of my fiftieth high school reunion. Discovered all my interesting classmates are deceased. Those running the shebang are the very ones everyone knew to avoid like the plague back then.

  16. Clearly, many people need to be educated on the complexity of statistics and performance evaluation. But I’m not holding my breath.

    This is a pet peeve of mine. From government to private sector (think HR), there are many inadequate and invalid measurements because (1) pertinent factors are omitted or inaccurately weighted, and (2) subjective evaluations are viewed as objective, just because some scale is associated with them.

    The “Race to the Top” program, and others like it, demonstrate the ignorance and stupidity of the people who devised them.

    The subject fits into the same theme pervasive today in politics: perception management, lies and deception, smoke and mirrors — although here ignorance is a bigger factor, whereas in politics it is intentional.

  17. A statistical model can be produced to explain the variance among teachers has could never work because there are more variables than subjects. Just the few variables the authors included in their survey are stretching the assumptions of the General Linear Model.

    I think the reason schools are doing more poorly now than in the past is the lack of parental involvement. My mother was a stay-at-home mom. When I returned home from school I had chores then homework. If I got everything done to her satisfaction prior to dinner I was allowed an hour or so of television before bed. Bedtime was early so I would get 9 hours of sleep.

    Nowadays both parents are required to work to maintain a decent standard of living. The result is less supervision of the children. The children are failing because the economics undermine their support.

  18. Note that many of these tests have moved beyond the bubble sheet and into “short answer” responses that are scored by people. There, there’s even *more* ability to tweak and manipulate the results. I used to work in that industry, and some of the things I’ve seen were amazing.

    For instance, an 8th grade math test had an item where students were given the horizontal and vertical dimensions of a triangular flag and asked to find the length of the third side. Writing the WORDS “Pythagorean theorem” (not the equation, or any kind of answer) was deemed sufficient for 3 OUT OF 4 points. Not that it mattered, as far too many students were adding/multiplying/dividing the numbers without understanding in any case.

  19. OhReginaldIDisagree

    I agree with the poster who said, “what is the problem we are trying to solve?” and the other who said, “reward based on number of felonies, unwanted pregnancies, etc.”

    The education problem is a symptom of a bigger epidemic in America. The fact that kids need stability and guidance to learn; much of which comes from parents. How many kids have stability and guidance in their life? It’s gotta be something low like 25%… especially since we don’t value education… we value status as a country.

  20. While I agree with the notion that using test scores to establish merit pay for teachers is a “road to nowhere,” there are more important deficiencies with testing than the statistical issues raised in this post.

    Most importantly, “growth” is not measured adequately. Consider a typical 7th grade math teacher with 120 students in 4 classes. Her top students are well above grade level and have SAT math scores that would be already be more than acceptable to the best public universities. Her weakest students are several years behind the average student in both math and reading.

    In North Carolina, perhaps typical of many states, all of these students take the same “end-of-grade” mathematics exam in May covering material from the 7th grade curriculum. Scores are scaled and compared to scaled scores from the 6th grade test given in May of the previous year to obtain a measure of “growth” for each student. The average of these “growth” measures is calculated by class, teacher, grade level, and school for each subject.

    While these tests may measure growth for typical students at grade level, they cannot measure growth for the relatively high percentage of students either above or below grade level in a subject. Appropriately challenging each of these off-grade level students and raising their math skills by a grade level or so is unlikely to result in good growth scores on tests designed to measure mastery of 7th grade math curriculum.

    This problem might be addressed with adaptive computer-based testing. Even if that were perfected, we’d still have issues with many uncontrolled variables such as testing environment and student motivation that might influence growth measures.

    We’d be better off focusing our testing efforts on making sure that each student is appropriately challenged. Students should be able to use the results of the tests to develop the skills her or she needs to progress. Reporting meaningless scaled scores or percentiles doesn’t really give one much feedback on what one has learned and an appropriate next level of challenge.

  21. question. how do colleges determine success? i jus think these r ways to get rid of the unionized teachers & privatize schools. how does any of this help kids prepare for the working world where u dont get time off in the summer & the boss fires u 4 getting sick?

  22. One study already in shows the statistical link between standard test score performance levels and zip codes throughout the nation! Will some sort of filter be in place to account for such an empirical variance that may cloud the measure of good teacher v. bad teacher?

  23. There are plenty of problems with using testing and a statistical approach. You can correct for much of the selection issues by looking at same student test improvement as it relates to teachers. When given the option of using existing test data to evaluate teachers and not using test data to evaluate teachers, I’m for using the data. Even with the matching bias you mentioned, you gain a strong signal about the quality of teachers.

    There are some studies which indicate that principal evaluations are highly correlated with teacher performance, so perhaps all of this testing is unnecessary. While it may be cheaper just to let principals give merit bonuses, using existing test statistics seems less arbitrary.

    At the end of the day, it is the education establishments failure to control the quality of its own membership which is the failure. If you don’t like the existing evaluation methods, offer a better alternative.

  24. Sounds like a nice rationalization for 2 teachers who don’t like teachers judged and graded by performance and objective standards (apologies to dinosaur style thinking teachers who blog).

    Let us know when you plan on writing/blogging on the evils of “peer review” where Kathryn’s friend Lisa tells her she is a great teacher and Lisa’s friend Kathryn tells her she is also a great teacher.

  25. CBS from the West

    Fact check: there _are_ other professions with unions.

    In medicine, there is a union of interns and residents, at least in New York City. It does not have NLRB recognition, as far as I know, but it does engage in collective bargaining on behalf of residents at teaching hospitals.

    Beyond the residency stage, there are many professional societies in Medicine. They are not strictly speaking unions, and one would not expect that since most doctors are not “employees” in the usual sense either. But these societies, alongside their educational missions, often engage in policy advocacy or even direct lobbying, in support of their members’ economic interests. The difference between these societies and unions is more nominal than real.

  26. Maybe the problem of low-grades is not entirely with teachers but includes the socio-economic conditions of families; eg, are the parents well-integrated and well-adjusted people, is the family “functional”.

    It seems to me if teachers are going to be rated on the performance of their students, it would require that all teachers have a similar set of students (with similar challenges and privileges.) It’s not possible.

  27. How are the kids doing in creation science? lol

  28. Here’s one article, with an excerpt:

    http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175022

    The Duncan Doctrine
    The Military-Corporate Legacy of the New Secretary of Education
    By Andy Kroll

    Disturbing as well is the prominence of Duncan’s belief in offering a key role in public education to the military. Chicago’s school system is currently the most militarized in the country, boasting five military academies, nearly three dozen smaller Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs within existing high schools, and numerous middle school Junior ROTC programs. More troubling yet, the military academies he’s started are nearly all located in low-income, minority neighborhoods. This merging of military training and education naturally raises concerns about whether such academies will be not just education centers, but recruitment centers as well.

  29. Tippy, what these two teachers above (who I am sure in general are two good peoples) fail to recognize is that in every field of occupation and endeavor of humanity there are external factors (variables) which affect the raw performance data of the individual worker. And in nearly every other occupation people grit their teeth, tighten their forehead muscles, bear down and accept that they must be judged and graded nonetheless on those results they produce. These two women and many others seem to think their occupation can “dog it” forever, because, heaven forbid, sometime there might be some factors (variables) which might cause some teacher to be judged “unfairly”. Oh my God, a teacher unfairly judged for their performance!!! Do you think this has ever happened in other professions????

    My answer to this cry of a possibility that teachers might on rare occasions be judged “unfairly”??? THIS IS LIFE, not a free research grant, GET USED TO IT.

  30. I think we ought to do as we have been. Graduating masses who cannot read or write. 45% of Americans cannot read a newspaper article and understand what they’ve read. I’m fortunate. I’m old and attended high school when the function of a school was to educate. Not like now when the major point is to keep students entertained.

    OR maybe we ought to just shut up and go study the 30 or so nations that are doing the job successfully. There are many out there. Evidently they’ve discovered a secret that, evidently, the “best” American minds can’t seem to consider.

    But then we’d have to have endless subcommittee hearings on who, what and where. Endless blog discussions on how the problem in not solveable which it isn’t if you consider sufficient numbers of variables to make the task impossible.

    And I know it’s a difficult task ie admitting, just maybe, somebody other than an American knows what they’re doing.

  31. People desperately want to believe that the deficiencies of our education system have to do with inefficiency. If you could just cut out the fat of the bureaucracy, create a profit incentive for school management, create incentives for teachers, pay teachers more to motivate them, threaten to firings/closings to motivate, etc, then you’ll solve the deficiencies.

    Ever met teachers and seen a school budget? These are not people motivated by money–otherwise they would never subject themselves to the crazy workloads, stress, and criticism that comes from the job. These are people who spend their own money, unreimbursed, on classroom expenses and materials, and spend weekends grading homework. You think a few hundred or thousand bucks will make a difference in their effort level? If you look at your local school budget, there are going to be wasteful items, but I doubt you could get savings of more than 10% of annual spend. If you look at the ghastly state of education in the US, do you really think a 10-20% difference gets the job done?

    The sine qua non for educational improvement in the US has to do with inputs, not merely efficiency. More classroom hours per student, more teachers, more support for troublesome/special students. It would be nice if that wasn’t true, but alas …

  32. Many teachers and professors don’t want alternatives (other than “peer review” and perennial employment obtained from union power). We’re just supposed to throw up our hands and go “Well who cares if young people from India and Southeast Asia are whipping our children’s butt at math and science, there’s just no way we can judge Teacher Smith on Tommy’s test performance because it’s “unfair”.

  33. Chris Curley

    Time.com had an article recently that discussed a very similar experiment to the one you suggested. The researchers found that “If incentives are designed wisely, it appears, payments can indeed boost kids’ performance as much as or more than many other reforms you’ve heard about before — and for a fraction of the cost.

    Read more: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1978589-1,00.html#ixzz0m3L9BOpY

  34. Thanks for the heads up regarding interns and residents—neither of which is licensed to practice medicine without the supervision of an licensed attending physician, as far a I am aware. The last I read there were over 700,000 “licensed” physicians and surgeons in the U. S. and none in unions. (full disclosure: I have heard that Philadelphia physicians were considering forming a union and podiatrists also) Regarding physicians as employees, more and more doctors are becoming employees because of malpractice premiums, shrinking insurance/medicare payments, and escalating operating costs.

    It is your opinion that “the difference between societies and unions is nominal.” Think strike. Think collective bargaining. Think right to work.

    Sorry if I offended you or a family member.

  35. CBS from the West

    By the way, as much as I enjoyed this post, and even replied to a comment on it, I do have to wonder how this relates to “What happened to the global economy and what we can do about it.”

  36. CBS from the West

    This is good in principle. But in practice, doctors have generally avoided being judged on results. All the same issues arise: some doctors treat sicker patients. Some doctors are limited to working in less effective hospitals, etc. etc. And indeed statistically teasing out a measure of physician quality from outcome data has been extensively studied, and it’s a real nightmare.

    More recently, insurers (including Medicare) have been experimenting with ways to “pay for performance,” but these efforts are fairly tepid and we don’t know yet whether they really improve results. We do know that for decades organized medicine resisted these efforts.

  37. mondo pinion

    I think the “secret” to be discovered lies not in the schools but in the culture at large.

  38. CBS from the West

    One of the “secrets” that pretty much every other country knows is the crucial role of centralization. Other developed countries have a national ministry of education which develops and imposes national curricula. In this country everything is decentralized; and even suggesting a national curriculum is regarded as somewhere between heresy and treason.

    Our decentralized system is designed to fail. It puts the management of our children’s education in the hands of petty, ignorant cabals who capture local schoolbooards and hijack our educational resources for their religious, political (this is equally true on the left and right, IMO), ethnic or other agendas. Other countries also have centralized and more equal funding of education.

    How will we ever regain supremacy in science education when many localities have creatonists writing the biology curriculum, and the math curriculum is dumbed-down to color-by-the-numbers because the local school board is concerned about the students’ “self-esteem.”

  39. Ya…. What does the quality of our nation’s education system have to do with the U.S. Economy????? It’s that darn leftist Obama again and his crazy ideas. I say we all boycott until “Baselinescenario” puts up a link to Forbes magazine.

  40. I agree with you and no one blames school failure solely on teachers. However, there are notable high performance schools in high-poverty areas. One, in particular, is in the Hill District of Pittsburgh where I used to live. Just Google: high performance+high poverty schools and look for names like Cawelti and Protheroe or Sam Carter. I just checked and they pop right up. These students come from poor families which do not include moms like your mom. The principals and teachers expect and demand achievement from the kids and, if possible, participation from the parents. The teachers somehow convince the kids that they can succeed. There is accountability for students AND teachers. Moreover, the teachers are dedicated and wish to be there.

  41. mondo pinion

    Here in Canada schools are funded equally whether in poor or rich districts. This is one of the benefits of a more centralized system. Here most schools are run by the provinces, not the federal government, so are not wholly centralized, but standards are set by central government. In the U.S, where schools are very localized and have traditionally been funded by property taxes, rich areas have rich schools and poor areas have poor schools, and this perpetuates the social divides.

  42. As a state/Ohio substitute teacher, I have read many thoughtful and somewhat simplistic responses on this blog.
    First,? Why are teachers seemingly to be held in such low esteem by so many? Having served in the classroom
    for the last several years, I can attest to all the extreme problems brought into the classroom by many public school children.
    “My mommy is in prison, I ain’t got no daddy, I’m hungry.
    Kids sent to school with 103* temperatures because their parent(s) is working a minimum wage job and will be fired for taking time off to care for a sick child. And what I found most striking is the siren-call of the streets. I defy any competent teacher out there to try to overcome street attitude
    in today’s schools.
    Education is just not about bricks, mortar, unions.
    and government interference. Children who are taught the process of “learning” will become life long learners: always finding something new and enticing to challenge their intellect and creativity.
    The government has GOT TO GET THE HELL OUT OF THE WAY!
    Disband the NEA and let teachers loose to explore their own options of teaching.
    My bet is we will find out that there are certainly more qualified teachers than we ever thought possible
    in our existing ranks. And as creativity and excitement come back to the classroom, our children might be freed from this NASTY, BITTER DIATRIBE that
    is strangling our public education in America.

  43. CBS from the West

    Well, in New York State, if you graduated from an American medical school, you can get licensed after your internship, so many of these union members are, in fact, licensed.

    It is true that the economic conditions for primary care physicians, in particular, are deteriorating. But if you are willing to stretch the meaning of “employee” to cover those conditions, then I think it is no further a stretch to call some of the professional societies unions (perhaps “guild” is a better term).

    As for “right to work,” physician licensing laws in some states are written in ways that protect the existing cadre and impose extensive barriers to out-of-staters moving in. The state medical societies are typically behind these laws and regulations (and in some cases have participated in drafting them for the legislature). So again, this is very much union like behavior and a physicians’ right to work law might be quite welcome in certain jurisdictions.

    At times there have been rumblings of physician strikes when Medicare rate cuts were threatened. None of those threats ever materialized–perhaps because Congress always backed down on the rate cuts first. Probably what really motivated Congress to back down on these rate cuts (this backing down has been an almost annual affair for this entire decade) is the intensive lobbying by the AMA and other medical societies. To me that’s as equivalent to collective bargaining as the conditions you mention are to employee status.

    Not sure what you said that you thought might have offended me or a family member. Anyhow, no offense taken.

  44. Here in Tennessee, the method is called “Value Added Testing” and is, as reported, supposed to measure how much a teachers’ students gained in a year. This may be a rumor, but I heard that this method was created in order to make poor schools with disadvantaged populations – schools where the average test scores are low and difficult to raise – look better. When students are scoring in lower than the 50th percentile it is easy to gain a few percentage points. On the other hand, the schools that already have high test scores are given a grade of D, reported in the newspaper, because their students, who were already in the 90+ percentiles, didn’t show much improvement. I wonder why – there was not room for them to improve under the existing scoring. The school system official in charge of testing was questioned about this and didn’t have a very good answer. Another reason to distrust this system: Tennessee is and has long been 48th or 49th or 50th in its scores on standardized tests. We have been using value-added testing for years. Ok, what is the evidence that this is working? This seems like just another way to blame teachers, create a new money-making industry to siphon off education dollars, and avoid having to do what is really necessary: pay teachers more and treat them with respect so you can attract better teachers in the future. Note: I am not a K-12 teacher, I teach at a university.

  45. CBS from the West

    Actually, I should add that most of these “pay for performance” initiatives focus primarily on rewarding particular processes of care, with very little based on actual health outcomes.

  46. CBS from the West

    No, of course in the long run the quality of our nation’s education system is critical to the functioning of our economy (maybe less so to the global economy). But this blog has generally devoted itself to discussing the causes and consequences of the financial meltdown of 2008 and what should be done in the short and medium term about that.

    Even if we were to instantly fix everything in our educational system today, it could take a few decades before that really shows up in terms of the performance of the economy. I wonder if anyone on this blog thinks that fixing our educational system is likely to prevent the next financial crisis.

  47. hbooth,
    Beings that you are a University teacher, instead of giving us “this may be a rumor” you think you could give us some links from your state/large city newspaper and or others to prove your numbers and your points??? Or is it too much to ask from a Tennessee university teacher on the weekend??

  48. Russ, come on man, usually I agree with you. You have a problem with young men (and girls I guess) having Junior ROTC in poor areas to teach them discipline and purpose??? You ever seen these kids in their uniforms and cleaning their shoes?? Their knowledge of History and the Constitution?? Talk about paranoia…. Wow. You been listening to Republicans on am radio??? You ever seen some of these kids and how clean and disciplined they are in the Junior ROTC??? What else would you have these kids in poor areas of Chicago do?? Give them a soccer ball and tell them to play down the block??

  49. Merit pay is based on what you want them to DO. You want teachers to teach and kids to learn. Standardized tests for workers isn’t in any way commiserate with what you want them to do. A salesman’s commission IS merit pay.

    That being said I am no fan of standardized testing as the sole marker for merit pay for teachers. Much of the rest of the working world gets merit pay based on performance reviews, customer satisfaction, and the ability to be fired for failing miserably at your job.

  50. Rock on Ted!!

  51. dilbert dogbert

    There is a lot of talky talky talk in the above comments but no one has noticed that Wall Street has pay for performance and look at what is has brought us to.
    The other thing brought to my mind as I read the above was: Who in the hell wants to be a teacher? If my performance is going to be rated the same way as in Wall Street I want to be paid like Wall Street. A teacher is never going to be paid like a Bankster. Why take chump change when you can score big time?

  52. Again, the tyranny of teachers shines through. Why not have kids rate their teachers as part of the process? Well, the compelling reason would be that teacher’s unions would froth at the mouth at the very mention.

    But, in reality, the very best systems are cybernetic. They incorporate feedback loops, and the American educational system is neither authoritarian enough to force results, or responsive enough to feedback to follow a more successful path.

    But this is the way the world changes. Once, there was a Persian empire, a Roman empire, a British empire, and now we watch the sunset of the American empire, and the re-ascendance of what was the largest economy in the world from the beginning of time until 1780, when the industrial revolution pushed Britain to the Fore. China will rule again.

    And the bureaucratic model within which American children are raised, where they are controlled by what looks remarkably like a police state, is conditioning them to knuckle under to their new masters, and just in time!

    :)

  53. I can think of lots of things America could do with all this wealth which would be more constructive for the poor than wage a permanent imperial war, militarize civilian life, and try to indoctrinate the poor with the idea that their only way out of the ghetto is to become a functionary of violence.

    I have to say, I never thought anyone would accuse me of making a Republican argument when I say something like that. AM radio must be more broad-minded than I thought.

  54. Why are so many people assuming that bad learning is the teachers’ fault?

    Why are people not at all considering the possibility that the problem is just as much the children and their parents?

    I suppose it is easier to blame teachers than to look in the mirror.

  55. “…love of learning comes when one is free to learn what one chooses, and when, and how – not what is dictated by others.”

    Yes.

    P.S. Choices re: what to learn are so narrowly restricted at present because, as anonymous noted earlier, part of our corporate educational system is based on making sure there’ll always be someone to clean the toilets at the Hilton or serve us food at our favorite restaurant…as well as someone to offer the next “genius” iteration of a video game where blowing people’s heads off six times over is considered “entertainment” for children.
    With few exceptions, it’s been created to keep the worker/slave system intact while upholding the following illusions:
    1. Some are meant to “serve” at the bottom of the heap;
    2. Others are meant to be “satisfied” with crumbs, only the illusion is, they’re not really crumbs because look, I get to watch American Idol and drink beer on the weekends and buy a new tech gadget every once in a while;
    3. “Higher” others are allowed to move into management positions with enough perks to get them to do just about anything for “the company” because of an added twice yearly jaunt to Las Vegas;
    4. Still even “higher” others pull the strings re: all the preceding (only the masses are told, no, those aren’t strings you see, that’s “expertise”);
    5. At the top: self-selected few who control – pretty much the whole show.
    The good news: There are so many institutions all around the world on the brink of total collapse…that I suspect what passes for “education” in current day…will be unrecognizable within ten years. And as someone who’s been involved in education for over two decades: couldn’t be happier.

  56. I agree with tippygolden.

    I disagree with Ted_K — just because an idiotic system or methodology is widespread doesn’t mean it should be supported, or that we should abandon striving to improve it.

  57. “In medicine, there is a union of interns and residents, at least in New York City. It does not have NLRB recognition, as far as I know, but it does engage in collective bargaining on behalf of residents at teaching hospitals.”

    That “union” doesn’t seem to have reached the outer boroughs yet, at least not Staten Island. Interns, residents and fellows are eligible and encouraged to join the New York Medical Society, but I’m not aware of the existence of anything that could be characterized in common parlance as a union.

    Nonetheless, the question of the changing roles of doctors – and “unionization” as one aspect of that – is interesting (although off topic from this post).

    Also, “internship” is only the first year of what are usually three year residency programs. An intern is a first year resident. Only after three years residency in NY and passing exams can a physician become licensed to practice in NY. (If you know a specific way one can become licensed after one year of residency in NY, please do not hesitate to respond immediately to this note!) I understand that some states may permit only 2 years of residency, but I gather that is quite rare.

  58. It seems to me that teachers , while important, are a small factor in student performance. It’s my understanding that the best predictors for student performance are parent’s education level and family ncome. We are expecting teachers to fix problems that have social and economic causes. That doesn’t make any sense.

  59. au contraire, there is a state medical board, state dental board, state bar association. They control the supply of doctors, dentists, and lawyers. They have PACs just like unions. They prevent people from entering their field of work unless they manage to squeeze through the narrow window of competence as defined by the union members. Doctors who lose their license(requires criminal negligence repeatedly) usually end up in another state union in a short time.

    Those are unions, the difference being they don’t openly publish their compensation to require everyone to charge the same. Have you ever found in significant differences in fee for service amount doctors and dentist?

  60. Good subject for debate, very important and highly politicized like all important problems in society. I think tenure is a bad idea. I also think pay for performance(as defined by annual test scores) is a bad idea. Some teachers both in public and university level, will be so brillant they will need to be paid more to retain them. Remember years ago there was a big article about the private universities bidding up the salaries of various professors in specialties and these professors were like professional athletes. They moved to where ever they were paid the most.
    I think 3-5 year contracts would work better than pay for performance. My previous job in the private sector convinced me that the performance metrics are jiggled and poorly derived by layers of management. The people who produce the work being measured are never consulted.

  61. CBS from the West

    @pairochucks:

    The union is known as the Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), and it recently affiliated with SEIU. It does not have a presence at every hospital, but it does at many. If you want to know more about it, see http://www.cirseiu.org/about/Default.aspx.

    As for licensure requirements, I have been away from New York for a while, and things may have changed. But I know that as recently as 10 years ago, an American medical school graduate could get a New York State medical license with just 1 year of post-graduate training. (Foreign medical school graduates had to have 3 years.) So my statement to Jessica that the CIR includes some licensed physicians may now be incorrect, but it was true not very long ago.

  62. Among other things, the tests indentify those who cannot read.
    That’s better than waiting till they are in high school before figuring out that’s why they cannot graduate.
    With the class size getting bigger and bigger due to the financial crisis, some objective standards are sorely needed.

    You can make them take the tests on computers to test their computer skills, or devise some creative ways to improve the methods, but there is no replacement for testing for a, b, c, and 1,2,3.

  63. There are so many criteria that measure good teaching, that the idea of statistically evaluating teaching based purely on relative student success on standardized testing is virtually absurd. I have taught, and obviously been a student. When I taught, I looked for inspiration in teaching methodology to the teachers that had presented me with the most enriching educational experience in their classroom. These teachers were truly great. Each treated every member of their class with dignity and respect (no “pets”), each knew their subject matter with perfection and loved it, each demanded the most of each student that they had, demanded that each student maximize their potential, and took no prisoners. They were the best examples of the idea of “tough love” ever. They weren’t mean, but simply would not allow excuses. There were involved. They took time to explain things, and stressed the idea the progress in their classes relied on learning each lesson component, doing the homework completely, understanding what went wrong when it went wrong and taking care of any student’s lack of mastery.

    My wife is trained as a teacher in Russia. She was trained in English, which she studied for 17 years before being certified. She has a better understanding of our language than almost any teacher I ever had. The demands made of Russian students are unfailingly high. When she studied English literature, she was required to read at least 15 full novels per semester. She told me that the requirements were so high that she had a hard time finding time to eat or sleep in college. She never got less than a perfect grade in five years of school (degrees in both English and Pedagogy – education). But one of the most wonderful things about their educational system is that they form students into what they call “Work Groups” of 10 to 12 students. These students stay together for the entire time in college in each class, and generallys study together, and compete for the best groups grades. This is a great system.

    I attended 6th through 11th grades in Harford County, Maryland. At that time (1958 – 1963) they had a great system of education. Each school formed a group for hiring new teachers comprised of faculty, administration, and the PTA. Each teacher was hired by the individual school to teach at that school, and, of course had to meet the county’s criteria to be considered. Each teacher, once hired got to pick their own textbooks, write their own curriculum for their classes, and devise their own educational strategy and tests. Of course all of their choices had to be approved by the administration and PTA, and, of course, each student would ultimately be evaluated by their performance on nationally standardized tests. The difference this made was mostly in attitude amongst the teachers. All teachers saw themselves as dedicated to each student, and answerable to the parents and administrators. For my senior year, I went to school in Baltimore County. They had a “plug and play” theory, where teachers taught from a county-wide curriculum, were told what text books to use, and were frequently moved around the system. I was amazed at the difference between the two systems. I was a three sport athlete, very socially active, and had many interests and hobbies beyond school. I was a B-minus average student. On my SAT’s I got a 1480, and in college I was a deans list student for all four years, with a 3.55 gpa (out of 4.0). I’m not bragging, but my point is that I was not a highly motivated student prior to college — my type “A” personality was spread pretty thin in those days, but the fact that my learning experience wss both rich and deep, even under those circumstances, made it so much better. And, nearly 50 years after studying them, I can still do simultaneous equations and calculus problems (although I have never had a job requiring the use of either), I can still speak French with a reasonable degree of proficiency (although I only studied it for two years and have never “had” to use it in life since school), I can do the average daily crossword in about 15 minutes in pen with no errors. My education was a great experience, and I still think of at least two of my teachers often.

    We need a system which places a high value on the educational process. It is in the weeds where the best work is done by the best teachers. We need to empower our teachers.

  64. teacheroberver

    This business of paying teachers based on student test scores is not based in reality. There are just too many variables for it to be workable and fair. But maybe there is a different reason for promoting this idea. Has anyone stopped to consider that perhaps the real reason teachers are under attack right now is to eliminate teachers? Let’s face it, if teachers are eliminated and students “teach” themselves with computers, DVD’s and cell phone apps the plutocracy that runs this country would be happy. They would have an ignorant and easily influenced and malleable consumer class. They would have a functionally illiterate class of “useless eaters”. (Granted they almost have that already with the way parents currently raise their children and the way schools currently reinforce this type of selfishness, however getting rid of teachers by demonizing them just ensures that the plutocracy has the ignorant populace it needs for slave labor.)At other times in history in other places teachers were regularly eliminated, e.g. Communist China and the cultural revolution, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Why? Because they interfered with reeducation and indoctrination. Maybe that is what’s going on here–except it’s a bloodless elimination—for now at least.

  65. Agreed, prof. A friend of mine teaches 5th/6th grade in a public school, and she’s been doing it for about 15 years–she says that the test results completely depend on who she gets in her class.

    It’s chemistry, not a spreadsheet. You can’t just add the magic teacher and end up with high achievers every year.

    When the same teacher produces different results from year to year, that should be a very good clue that the teacher is not completely to blame, nor deserves all the credit, for test results.

    That said, how do you know who the good teachers are? We all “knew” who they were but is it possible to measure what the attributes are of a good teacher?

  66. It might be more accurate to note that 66% of Indians are illiterate. We may have a less than ideal system of public education, but most Indians don’t receive even a basic level of education. If we compared the top 25% of our high school graduates with the top 25% of Indian high school graduates, America’s educational system wouldn’t look so bad.

    Politicians are excellent at manufacturing fake crises, and this “we’re falling behind the Indians and Chinese” crap is just another ridiculous example.

  67. Martin: best comment.

    In Colorado, we are beginning to employ “data coaches.” I asked many questions about what guidance the “data coach” was getting in data analysis. Answer: some ex-assistant superintendant who’s great with Excel spreadsheets. And they’re EYEBALLING the data. Excel is not made for statistical analysis.

    We need more PhDs in educational measurement. It seems to me even the state education dept. folks haven’t taken a single class.

  68. That’s why houses in those given zip codes cost more.

  69. Home schooling is such a bad idea. Very few have degrees and/or advanced degrees in math, biology, chemistry, physics, literature, political science, computer science and history.

    If you have all those, congratulations, you are capable of home schooling a student in the modern world. If you don’t but home school anyway, you are an air head.

  70. “Race to the Top” is just rebranding of “No Child Left Behind.”

    Both are, in truth “Blame the Teachers.” As usual, a politically-disadvantaged group is being singled out for scapegoating.

    Teachers have no control over blighted neighborhoods, unemployment, disintegrating families, poor nutrition, crashing school budgets, crumbling buildings, dirty buildings, ignorant school boards demanding creation “science”, and all the other neglect and failure that affect school performance.

    Nobody is willing or able to deal with any of these problems, but it is easy to use idiotic standardized testing to scapegoat the teachers.

    I think that what we will see is a mass exodus from the teaching profession (education school enrollment is already down), and the problems continuing to worsen.

  71. anti_fascist_freedom_fighter

    For god’s sake. The entire “no child left behind” was just smokescreen for destroying the public school systems. Do your homework, Kwak. The use of the “standardized testing” was to let private corporations take over the public schools by allowing “charter schools” to move in whenever the standardized testing failed. This let the private corporations reduce teacher salaries and break up the teacher’s unions. In other words, “no child left behind” and “Race to the top” are fake labels to destroy the public commons and destroy public education. The rich get to pay for really nice rich-kids “charter schools” and the poor – let them eat cake!

  72. And sometimes, we didn’t know who our best teachers were for many years. Evaluating teachers based on test scores is hopelessly flawed. Parental involvement is the top indicator of a student’s success and that isn’t measured or accounted for at all.

  73. D. Christopher Leonard

    Much of the commentary lacks any historical perspective. As Golden and Katz have shown, the U.S. had a better educated, more literate populations from the end of the 18th century until the late 1960s. After WWII, went sent a larger proportion of high school grad on to post-secondary ed. than any other country. At the same time, more children completed compulsory schooling than in any other OECD country. So what has changed? We now have a poorer graduation rate for compulsory (high school) schooling than many OECD countries. While a larger per cent of 18 year olds enter post secondary ed, far fewer graduate (as a percent of total cohort) than in some other OECD countries. Part of the explanation may lie in the fact of immigration but most European countries have immigration rates (proportionate to pop.) similar to ours. Some things do stand out. Federal support to primary and secondary education has declined by a significant amount -starting in the 1970s. This has placed a greater burden on states and localities to finance more of the cost through property taxes – that most citizens resent. Hence, in most municipalities, voting against the town budget is a chance to vote against the interests and needs of children (who don’t vote and therefore aren’t a constituency).
    So let’s move to the issue of teacher pay and performance (now that all have admitted that the broade context of public education has suffered greviously over the last 40 years). There is no way to ensure that someone starting to teach will be effective; i.e. a “good” teacher. Some may know a lot but be socially incapable of building the report/trust with children necessary, other may have incomplete mastery of subject (most states still don’t require that a primary school teacher major in a subject rather than “ed”). So, perhaps, a longer probationary period for teachers would be a good idea.
    We ought to remember the reasons why tenure & unions came into primary/secondary school teaching in the first place. Teaching was overwhelmingly (like nursing) a female occupation -low paid, low status because it was assumed women would marry and depend on husbands for the ‘real’ income. School jobs were until quite recently, political patronage jobs in many cities and towns. Teachers, like firemen and police – unionized in order to gain some job security in the face of wholesale firings when municipal administrations changed. Teachers also sought tenure and union security in the face of politicized firings everytime there was a scare about ‘reds’ I both the 1920s, the 30s, and the 1950s large numbers of both secondary school and college teachers were fired, their careers ruined, by being labeled “red”.
    So why are American student doing more poorly than their South korean or German counterparts? In part as one commentator pointed out, most other school systems “winnow out” students – only the most competent get close to university (and when they do, the state pays for their education). Our system is inefficient but enable second, third, and even fourth chances – or at least has in the past – so there is less wastage of human capital. As we dis-invest in primary,secondary, post-secondary education, the gap between U.S achievement and other OECD countries will continue to grow (see Golden & Katz). We could of course, shoot all the teachers and start over again. This would combine our fascination with guns and our desire to have quick, easy solutions to complex problems in one great entertaining frenzy. But inventing more standardized tests with evermore complex statistical manipulations of the results is unlikely to help either children or teachers. We could turn away from the mindless productivism and tawdry utilitarianism that assumes that education exists purely to stock ‘the economy’ (a reification right up there with the best of them) with docile workers. Like TVs on an assembly line where 4 out of 10 fall off and break, the American solution is to speed up the line so that 9 out of 20 fall off and break! I remember back to the ghastly high school I attended (until thrown out) that was busy “tracking” students. The less academically proficient were taught to be punch card operators for data entry – jobs that no longer existed by the time they left school! plus ca change, plus le meme choise.

  74. First I wonder why the taxpayers aren’t called on their failure to put enough money into the schools to insure that kids have safe buildings, textbooks, adequate plumbing, wiring and the like. Schools cost money, and most states have been educating on the cheap for a long time.

    Second it’s true that schools survived for a long time on the underpaid labor of women. But women have been able to get other jobs for a long time, so you just have to pay more. You received the benefits of discrimination, but that’s over now, so get past it.

    Third the whole concept of standardized testing assumes that the teacher has the same group of students for the entire year. In many districts lower-income parents have so little housing stability that the children changes schools two or three times during the school year. That means that the teacher has to assess the incoming student, and that it changes the dynamic of the class every time it happens.

    Fourth when did kids become the equivalent of widgets, where we do quality control? A child may have a really good teacher, where the work of the teacher on shows up years later. Or a child may have a really bad teacher, but still perform adequately on the standardized tests that year.

  75. David B. Cohen

    Thank you so much for posting this analysis. For a teacher’s take on the problem, please see my blog series, “Do You Understand My Job?” “…My School?” and “…My Students?”

    http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com

  76. Better tell that to the grad schools, they didn’t get your memo.

  77. As long as they don’t teach Tim Teebow is a God:

    http://americaspeaksink.com/2010/04/why-some-people-dislike-tim-tebow/