Sunday, February 3, 2013

Another Stupid Education Study

Will Sentell, education reporter for the Baton Rouge Advocate has found another excuse to bash experienced teachers because of their suspicion of the new Value Added teacher evaluation systems. His article today reports on a so called “study” conducted by a group called TEACH +PLUS. This study which consists of an unscientific survey of public school teachers' opinions about the importance and desirability of using student standardized testing as a major component of school and teacher accountability. As expected, the more experienced teachers are chastised for being suspicious of the new value added method for evaluating teachers while the new teachers seem to be enthusiastic about having their careers as teachers tied to student performance. Has it occurred to the reporter that maybe the experienced teachers know something about the real factors affecting student performance primarily because they are experienced?

The conclusions of such a survey seems to be that older teachers are just resistant to change and don't care as much about improved student learning. This is like saying that experienced doctors should be open to using patient death rates as a way of rating the effectiveness of doctors. However no one would question an experienced doctor's objection to this, pointing out that doctors who serve the most "at risk" patients are likely to have higher patient death rates.  No doctor should be rated as effective or ineffective by such a stupid measure. But the reformers think its OK to treat teachers that way.

Not surprisingly this study was funded in part by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. In addition, this relatively new organization, TEACH+PLUS looks suspiciously like most of the new AstroTurf organizations that are funded by the ALEC member organizations. Such groups have minimal credentials in education research but are determined to totally revamp pubic schools using the so called corporate reform models. For example, the president of TEACH+PLUS, Monique Thompson, as far as I can tell from her resume' has never spent a day of her life in the classroom. She did spend half a year as an assistant principal in an experimental school in Washington DC.... I guess she would spent time in a Holiday Inn Express except that it is probably too cheap an accommodation for a person of her social status.

Ms Thompson recently gave testimony to the Congressional Committee on Education and Labor where she lectured the committee on importance of effective teachers. (something she has never had an opportunity to be herself) She paraphrased the common misstatement about the Hanusek-Rivkin Research by testifying the following: “Teachers are the most important factor in determining whether a child has a lifetime of choice or challenge.” (Notice how she worked in the current reform catchword “choice” into this common lie about educational research.) Please read this post by Educators for All to see what the real research finding was.

What's interesting is that this reform group's major project has been an attempt to attract effective experienced teachers to inner city Boston schools by by offering extra pay in the amount of $6000 to $8000 over normal pay. Even more interesting is the fact that the effectiveness of these teachers is determined not one bit by any value added data. It seems that the major factor they are using to determine teacher effectiveness is an interview by TEACH+PLUS staff. (by people who mostly have no experience in teaching or teacher evaluation)

I personally agree with the idea of paying our best and most experienced teachers extra to teach in high poverty schools. It makes perfect sense because the job there is more difficult and often more time consuming, especially if you do it right by trying to improve positive parental involvement and giving such kids extra help. But I don't think this AstroTurf educator group funded by the ALEC reformers is qualified to make this or any other recommendation. It is ironic that their study criticizes the very teachers they say are most vital to helping at risk students and that their own selection process for effective teachers does not use the value added system they are promoting.

Special Report:
I just watched an interview with Bill Gates on the Fareed Zakaria show. For such a smart man, he sure is dumb about education. Fareed asked him if all the research his foundation had done had identified what makes a great teacher.

"Yes, it has!"

"So tell us exactly what it is Bill." 

Bill Gates then kind of beat around the bush and finally said something about a teacher who  is more interactive and is able to better engage students in the learning process. Big discovery! The problem is, Bill then goes on to talk about how if we would just spend about 2% of what we normally spend on teacher salaries to use data and new evaluation techniques to ID the best teachers and train or somehow get all teachers to perform like the best teachers, we would soon have the best education system in the world. According to Gates, its all about the teacher! Not one word about attacking poverty. Not one word about the lack of books in some children's homes. Not one word about parent responsibility. Not one word about ensuring discipline in all classrooms. With helpers like Bill Gates, public education does not need more enemies! See the Inconvenient Truth About Edcuation Reform in the Washington post. Now we are seeing much evidence that it is all about the money, not the children!

It is sad that the Advocate continues to try to discredit the very teachers who have dedicated their careers to the well being of our students in favor of the deformers who profit and draw big salaries while pushing destructive programs on children and teachers.


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