The proportion of time ‘AT’ school Is NOT the same as being ‘IN’ School and other measurement issues

This article was difficult to digest on many levels – some of the comments were hilarious, some were so to the point honest it was like a gunshot going through and out the other side and some demonstrated the absolute magnitude to which people are finally understanding TEACHERS can not control the education of a student when parents are not parenting.

As a tutor, I get to cherry pick the jobs I wish to take on. This is a luxury for me.  I also try to, within reason, keep my fees low so I am available to a wide range of students as there are many students/parents who know the value of an education and the cost of tutoring is beyond their grasp.  Clearly the students who can ‘afford’ me most likely don’t need me.   I interview the student and the parents informally to make sure it is a good fit all the way around and ask some important questions that often stymie parents:  (1) What are your childs goals? (2) What are your goals in 1 week, 1 month, 6 months? (3) Is this tutoring to ‘pass the class’ or is this tutoring to learn, most especially when I am discussing algebra (4) Are you willing to commit to assisting your child schedule their time such that there may be less TV and/or computer time in order to get through the studying? (5) Are you willing to commit to a consistent schedule?  (6) What type of feedback do you wish to have from me? (7) In certain situations I need to ask if the parents want me to meet with the teacher (this is fee intensive although it can have outstanding outcomes with the right family).

If parents seem to not understand questions 3-5, I have to think long and hard if this is a job I wish to take on because at the end of the day, no matter how hard I work, it is not going to be enough to benefit a student I see for two hours a week and so change and improvement is inherent on other factors.  This is shared with parents.  I tell parents my being at their house is not the same as the child being focused in and doing more than the one or two hours of tutoring each week. I explain that tutoring works best when everyone is on board.  Amazingly, only a small amount – say 35-50% of parents get it and so I have the opportunity to work with the cream of the crop of students who (1) want to learn (2) often have learning differences or are differently abled – autism spectrum, ADHD, cochlear implants, ESL, auditory processing, etc. and (3) parents who value education.  At the end of the day, I have a great deal of satisfaction that I did something wonderful to help a child learn.

Believe it or not, most of the parents who hire me are not relatively well to do, relatively uneducated themselves and live modestly  and are not all white or Asian as the stereotype goes.  The difference is these parents WANT their child to succeed and put forth  the effort to work  with me and their child for success to happen.  Am I perfect? No….are there times when things take longer than anyone expected? yes…..Do the students improve? I would say 95% do and when I or the parents do not see success we part ways early enough in the game for the parents to find a different tutor.

All of the above three paragraphs is very different from what happens in a public school classroom where I would be lucky if 35% of the parents are on board in any reasonable way (this means both parents who don’t care and parents who care too much are not in the 35%).  I would be exhilirated if 50% of my students came to school with the intention of learning (both mentally and physically, such as having a good breakfast with protein in it).  Over the top would be if there was a situation where the kid was not ‘kept’ at school and warehoused somehow for part of the day so the school could get the ADA……..this is where the differenc of AT and IN play a huge role and being on board is not always so transparent. So, in the public school system, getting the child to school is only a very minute part of the issue. Engagement is a huge effort and there are some kids, and all teachers know what I mean, that we are thankful don’t show up to school.

None of this is a free pass for parents not to parent, however, it does point a magnifying glass at the large problem of willingness to put in effort and willingness to follow through – this comes from the home.  If OUSD thinks for one minute having the student AT school solves the problem, they are sorely mistaken.  This is not even the real problem.  Until OUSD and every other school district gets to the point of addressing the problem – education is a mind set, there is going to be a chronic lack of success at all schools.  Sometimes having a student AT school merely means they are off the street and being looked after – it does not mean they are learning. It is of great importance that our state superintendent look at the issue at hand, not the issue that merely generates ADA.

Minding The Data ‘Gap’–%20FINAL.pdf

A friend of mine who tends to consider me the erudite nerd when it comes to reading between the lines, sent me an old TED video clip about data (not only do I worship the simplicity of nature, I find Edward R. Tufte to be the steward of logic in displaying data and information in a way almost anyone can understand).  My friend felt that perhaps  would soothe my yearnings for ever more clear data.

After listening to Mr. Rosling and viewing the website, I do believe this is the ‘missing link’ all charter schools should be using to display their data.  Since Gapminder allows for  longitudinal studies to be represented AND charter schools love data, this is a match made in heaven.  Surely anything the Swedish do, we as Americans can do…..right? 

So, a challenge to KIPP, Aspire Public Schools, U.S. Department of Education, etc. – take a view of  Gapminder and load in the data.  Inquiring minds want to know.  I am certain everyone would love to know the increase in college graduation rates, especially with so many successful charter schools, what the test scores show from state standards vs. NAEP, how many students from which schools are in which colleges………there is a veritable gold mine out there for grad students.

Shouldn’t we use data for the intended purpose?

When I first heard about The Los Angeles Times doing investigative reporting regarding student annual test scores and the relationship to teachers ability or perceived lack there of, I was listening to NPR and had to get out of the car for work.  The initial way I heard the details caused a mild sense of both frustration and anxiety and then later, when driving home and not hearing any more about the topic, I began to think there was more to this story, which is why NPR did not say much – they were researching and investigating before they reported more details.

Like NPR, I believe the devil is in the details and how one presents an idea and the anticipated outcomes should also include a peek at the potential unintended consequences.  There are two sides to this issue – neither of which is good in any light and both sides of the problem actually having relatively nothing to do with student education so I decided to to talk about the real issues underlying what is going on in hopes some one, some where will read this blog and a light bulb may go on and people will rethink the issue before publishing the mushy data. I am not in the teachers camp nor the school district camp – I am in the camp of the students and trying to determine how the data could be best used appropriately to the value of improving education and student outcomes.

First of all, I keep seeing the word correlation but not causality.  If a person is trying to obtain their PhD at a reputable university, correlation is not considered causality and so, not quite a tight case. The misuse of this word is important in evaluating research and so the lack of seeing the word causality was the first warning flag this was not a circus coming through town, rather a disaster looking for a cliff to launch off of – quickly. I am supporting this with the following out take of The Wall Street Journal:

In a paper last year, University of California, Berkeley economist Jesse Rothstein showed that there is a strong correlation between teachers who score well on these value-added measures one year and how much their students gained the prior year. That implies that teachers who do well in these systems are benefiting from favorable classroom assignments.

 I started thinking about how many lawsuits would begin to clog the courts from now until eternity dealing with any teacher who received tenure and then was booted (or politely asked to leave for the good of the organization in the case of charter schools) based on an accumulation of test data being published in the L.A. Times AND the number of harrassment, libel, etc. suits.  Although I find Michelle Rhees one of the least promising aspects in public  education, at the very least she did not go public with the teachers she fired – for whatever reasons. Kudos to Michelle for not going the extra step of adding insult to injury and, more than anything, avoiding crazy litigation.  There are going to be many principals, assistant superintendents, supes, school board members, etc. called into question for anyone fired after the fact and I would not want to be the person who had signed off on any paperwork stating a teacher was tenured and then, magically, NOT.   My best example includes Principal Suzie Oh and teacher Karen Caruso at Third Street School in Los Angeles.

It seems as I research this issue, everyone, including teachers, is in agreement to use the data for good purposes and many people are worried about the correlation with lack of causation to the point they do not believe individual teachers should be identified publicly.  My own alma mater, Teachers College at Columbia University, funded the project but would not get involved in the analysis….that was odd to me yet also another warning about mis-interpreting data and being the university caught up in the clap trap.

I could not find inciteful comments from any of the big and reputable education schools/education departments – Stanford, the Ivy League, University of Wisconsin, University of Washington, etc.   Amazingly, the charter schools which feast on data have also seemed to step from the fray by making no comments. It would seem to me The Los Angeles Times could get one education contingent on board other than economists (especially since Freakonomics is now a movie) before they become the Lost Angeles Times from the union outrage.

I have now read numerous teacher comments, opinions issued by various key players (all noted in my post tags and the affiliations of the individuals I found in print) and talked with my teacher colleague friends and my own consensus is, be careful what you wish for.  LAUSD may see the data as the best way to clean house and start over while I see something akin to a witch hunt (witch hunts NEVER turn out well according to history).  Publicly shaming teachers is most likely in violation of something regarding confidentiality as the names of students from their classes can be brought into play, and I would not want to see that, however, the courts would.  The can of worms for that issue could get very ugly.

Yes, the data potentially has many beneficial aspects and it can put the whole school district on notice, as a whole entity.  The data can focus laser attention on specific schools and specific grades.  Whatever else the data is used for in the realm of public humiliation so principals, parents, school districts and so on have scape goats in the post NCLB country we inhabit, it does not bode well.  Better to re-run the data and find some causality before going public and destroy the many lives of the very people who only a mere two years ago were slated to get help in improving their practice.   The visual of the ‘frog in the blender’ – the frog’s back against the container and the claws hanging on to the edge while the blade whizzes about is what comes to mind.

Update 10 November 2010:

“Who got the ‘F’? L.A. Times,” chanted the crowd, which was made up mostly of students, teachers and parents from Miramonte Elementary School, where Mr. Ruelas taught fifth grade.

Although the above statement is rhetorical in nature, it bears thought – was it the school principal who failed in adequately coaching Mr. Ruelas?  Was it the HR department for hiring him in the first place? Was it the school board for allowing the LA Times to publish such gut wrenching, anguishing data OR was it the parents of the students who failed to succeed due to bad parenting

We will never know how many students in the class Mr. Ruelas taught were poorly parented and failing Grade 5 for reasons other than his ability as teacher – that data is secretly and securely locked away to protect the underage children.  What we do know is Mr. Ruelas was being held accountable to undo approximately 10 years of bad parenting and potentially five years of bad teaching prior to his arrival on the scene.   There is no other name for this than harrassment. LAUSD and The LA Times ‘failed’ in their professionalism in order to grab public attention.

Tests, Tests, Tests and More Tests – Results??? Who Knows….


This blog was started three weeks ago when I first captured the headlines.  I needed time to process what it was about the article that was necessarily disturbing, discomforting and revealing of how little the data in education seems to point in a meaningful direction.

At the same time this article was written, I had just begun reading the book The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, ISBN 978-0-1410-3459-1.  What I began to realize is that the test  results, while based on PAST notions of what children need to learn to be successful, are not predictive in a linear fashion of student success or even a reasonable measure of progress towards college.

If, as is pointed out in The Black Swan,  this type of data that is based on bell curve scenarios is not a quality predictive indicator, why do we persist in using it and what do we hope to obtain from the data?  If we are looking for a predictive indicator, we will most certainly be let down.  If we are looking for a measure of individual success, we will be even more let down as student learning is not linear, rather it occurs in bursts as the brain acquires enough experiences to process the over all schema.  If we are looking for qualitative measures to substantiate what we do as educators, we are applying narrative, retrospective distortion and Platonifying (over evaluating  factual information) and we will find exactly what we are seeking through interpretation.

This, in my mind, does not mean we should immediately stop all testing of students or using tests as an evaluative technique, but it should not be the exacting measure of all success or failure as indicated in the case example of Malcolm X Academy in San Francisco.   ‘

What I am understanding about myself is that I most definitely believe in Black Swans, know they exist and although we try to plan around them, realize we are victims of the perception that we can avoid what we don’t know is possible.  It is this very part of myself that quite possibly drives others crazy, much in the same way Mr. Taleb explains it in his book.

If tests are the end all of predictive value, there needs to be more than a correlation in the evidence and yet, that is all there is at this time.  I have yet to see conclusive evidence (even by the most hard core believers out there – charter schools such as KIPP and Aspire) which supports test scores translating into something such as the ability to complete/graduate college.  There are so many black swans for students who come from poverty that even the best education can not guarantee success in college – nor should that be the only outcome of an education (thank you Bill Gates). No, Bill Gates was not poor, however, he did not finish college.

There are no studies which definitively indicate a college degree will help you obtain more money during your life time, be rich, be famous, be popular.  The studies I have read indicate there is greater potentiality/possibility for some one to earn more money over their lifetime by having higher education (the higher you go, potentially the more money you can obtain).   All of this is in naught as I have close friends with a PhD who do not have the earning potential they should right now as as it is cheaper to hire a lecturer than a bona fide PhD person to place on tenure track.  I have friends who have taken a royal bath with the fall out of Wall Street even though they have an Ivy Education, including MBA degrees.  There are other friends of mine who were or had been doing moderately well except for the housing mortgage meltdown.  Most of the friends who were ensnared in this debacle would have been fine if they could wait out 10 or 15 years for the economy to right itself and housing to regain momentum instead of moving for a job.  Each item I wrote about in the last four sentences was a Black Swan none of us saw coming when we were undergrads or graduate students.

Which means, all those great grades we  (the people talked about above – and they know who they are if they are reading this blog) obtained in elementary, middle and high school, the SAT’s, GRE’s, etc. were never predictive of our success, rather all those grades and scores were predictive of our future potential.

So, my question remains, what do the results mean?  How should we use these test results to improve education? How should we deliver tests (multiple choice/written, etc.) to obtain results with more predictive value?  Can testing provide predictive value?  The questions are endless.  All I know is education has become something completely counterintuitive to what we know from Piaget, Montessori, etc.   If we really want results, we need to be more longitudinal in our thinking and cope up to the Black Swans out there which will always change the penultimate outcome of our best written and delivered lessons.

Michelle Rhee And Anomaly Theory

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Based on what I can gleen from a few different views of anomaly on various dictionary and dictionary/thesaurus websites, what occurred during the last two years of Michelle Rhee’s reign is, in her view “not normal”.  Interestingly, any teacher would have told her to actually expect the problems which occurred, had she only asked.  Any teacher with 10 years experience would have stated that there are bound to be pitfalls and most likely elucidate what they expected the pitfalls to be and how to possibly avoid the problems.

A person who is a reformer should seek counsel from the best and brightest about how to transform something (aka-damage control in the corporate world) so entrenched. Clearly her decisions were based upon her  own ideas or she would have graciously indicated who she had cultivated relationships with and thus consulted. Furthermore, whomever she consulted with, if they are ‘hiding’ in the wings, should have seen the what if scenario and did everything in their power to stanch the flow of problems by ANTICIPATING the problems.

Ms. Rhee clearly has good intentions.  She wants to change a school system and restore dignity and learning to children. It is unfortunate she is going about this in a way which is causing such dismay among so many. I believe the saying is ‘you only get one chance to make a good impression’. Much of what I read in the above noted article made me think of new undergrads, not quite ready for grad school but they know it all and are out to conquer the world.  Students who have completed graduate school, most especially in education, tend to be consensus builders and do the research/work necessary to turn the ship instead of trying to right the wheel while in the middle of the ocean in a storm.  Education is not, happily, a zero sum game.  Ms. Rhee has turned it into a battlefield – winner take all.

Even three consecutive years of test scores demonstrates nothing.  A longitudinal study takes 10 or more years to eradicate the anomalies by obtaining more data.  Even people with basic stats background can see through the fog of little data.   Unless Ms. Rhee has a great marketing firm who can put spin on an object with great inertia, the test scores will not mean doodle.  Everyone can have an opinion or interpret the test scores, much in the way everyone has a mouth.

 I feel sorry for the educators and principals who have to deal with Ms. Rhee’s ego.  I feel even more sorry for the children who have become the pawns in the experiment.

Teacher Satisfaction Up? What Drugs Does Mr. Kress Take?


Job Satisfaction Among Teachers Said To Have Peaked In 2008.


In an opinion piece for the Dallas Morning News (4/17), Sandy Kress, an attorney and former senior adviser to President George W. Bush on No Child Left Behind, writes, “Teachers today are more satisfied, optimistic and encouraged than at any time during the last 25 years,” results of the 2008 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher show. The latest results illustrate “a picture in stark contrast to the fearful account used by some special interests for political advantage,” according Kress. For instance, “in 2008, a full six years after No Child Left Behind was signed into law, the number of teachers who were ‘very satisfied’ with teaching as a career reached an all-time high of 62 percent. This is up from 40 percent in 1984.” In addition, 75 percent of respondents said that they likely would “advise a young person to pursue a career in teaching,” up from 45 percent in 1984.

The MetLife Survey of the American Teacher, conducted by Harris Interactive since 1984, tracks the opinions and outlook of teachers, principals and students. The survey’s latest report, “Past, Present and Future,” details interviews of 1,000 teachers and 502 principals across the nation.

MetLife has no agenda in education politics. It has simply put out the facts – objectively.

Uh, let me dig out my college stats book…..something appears contrived with the stats represented in this article.  Caveat emptor!

I will begin with the obvious and work my way to obtuse. 

Were the same 1,000 teachers interviewed year over year? Was this a credible longitudinal study?  How many of the 1,000 teachers were idealist first year teachers and how many of the 1,000 teachers had made it past five years of teaching?  Do the stats hold true for inner city teachers as for urban teachers? Were any of the teachers at private schools or were they all at public schools? What grades did the 1,000 people interviewed teach?  How many of the teachers interviewed had tenure? Where were the 1,000 teachers selected from and why such a small sample? Can this research be verified?

 One thousand teachers interviewed out of  x total teachers in America.   From 1984 to 2008, the PERCENTAGE of “very satisfied” with the career choice of teaching went from 40 to 62%  This means that anything below very satisfied (satisfied, not satisfied, extremely dissatisfied) went from 60% to 38%.   So, reframing this, anything over10% of your work force not merely hitting satisfied would be a concern.  What is the composite breakdown of the other categories? How was the percentage change calculated?

Teachers in 1984 recommended students pursue the career of eduction at a rate of 45% and in 2008, 75% advised students to pursue education.  Net change of 30%.  Sadly, 25% would not recommend pursuing a career in education – what might the reason be for that?

 Teachers who rate schools’ academic standards as “excellent” – 53 percent in 2008 from 26 percent in 1984.   That means almost 50% (47% rounded) do not view the academic standards as “excellent”.  This means about 1/2 of those interviewed believe the standards are excellent. Albeit, it is an improvement, however continuing to have about 50% who do not see something as excellent also tells you something.

Out of 1,000 teachers, 54% of the interviewed teachers report that at least 3/4 of their students more prepared for their lessons  an arrive able to tackle grade-level material. In 1992, this figure was 44 percent.  This means the perception of teachers ‘feeling’ 3/4 of their students are more prepared went up 10% points.  It also means that 46% of teachers interviewed believe LESS than 3/4 of their students are more prepared for their lessons and arrive able to tackle grade-level material.  If I round 46% up, it is almost 50%.  So, in this case approximtely 50% of teachers on either side of the issue perceive 3/4 of their students to be prepared for their work and able to tackle grade-level material….so, some where from 1/4 to who knows what number (remember, only about 54% of the teachers perceive 3/4 of their students are on target) are not……this would explain why teaching is so difficult.  I would like to add that if one were to look at API scores and the sales of programs to improve literacy, there is no way 3/4 of the students in the U.S. are adequately ready to perform at grade level.

Teachers feel better supported by their schools, with 83 percent rating the availability of teaching materials and supplies as “good” or “excellent,” up from 64 percent in 1984.   Since the teaching materials available are not listed, does this include things such as Read 180, REACH and other literacy programs? Does this include pre-packaged kits for science such as FOSS and anything from a text book company (essentially cookbooks for teaching for new teachers).  Again, looking at sales from various textbook companies and companies with scientifically proven materials, it would seem we are not seeing the high end education materials necessary for students to think beyond  PROFICIENT.  Proficient is the mark of test scores which also means a student is on grade level and does not need to be ‘pushed’ further (also, improving test scores of a student who is proficient does not make standardized test scores go up as much as a student below proficient so most materials are geared to students below proficient).  I would like to know of the teachers interviewed, how many are past their first five years of teaching which is the time period when most teachers begin to get past the kit form of delivery for teaching instruction and really get creative.

Schools’ physical facilities also garner higher marks, as 79 percent of teachers believe their schools’ facilities are “good” or “excellent’.  Again, this means 21% of teachers believe the school facilities they teach in is LESS THAN GOOD.    Are the less than good school facilities in poor communities?  Were the teachers who were interviewed  aware of what good and great facilities look like?   My own recent experience provided middle school facilities which were no where near safe nor appropriate to teach middle school science at grade level (including no fire extinguisher IN the classroom).  There are schools I have subbed in which are marginally better than the schools I taught in during Peace Corps in a third world country – and this is in the bay area, not rural communities.   Of the 20% of the schools which are not good or excellent, what is the story?  In addition,  is this an indicator that the 1,000 teachers interviewed may not have been inner city teachers?  I am not convinced LAUSD has working phones in every classroom yet.

Parental and community support has earned higher marks recently. Teachers believing support was “good” or “excellent” increased from 54 percent in 1984 to 67 percent today.  Again, the converse is 33% of teachers interviewed believe community and parental support is less than a minimum of good.  While it is up 13 percentage points, it is not indicating our communities are anywhere near on board with parental and community support of education in general.

My final comment would be this study does not indicate the parameters of the teachers interviewed, including:

Age of teachers

Years of experience

Location – inner city, urban, rural

Type of school – public, charter, private

MetLife has no agenda in education politics. It has simply put out the facts – objectively.

Without this information, this article, at best, provides low level correlation. Objective?  How about objectionable evidence for FACT….. Evidence to me that this is ‘spin’ by SandyKress as opposed to reality.  If this is an indication of how insurance companies represent factual data (this is not even an actuarial table), it may explain the skyrocketing costs of insurance – you can spin any data to your choice of interpretation.  

Mr. Kress would be well served to align himself with a major university which does educational research so his study could be more believeable.  At a minimum, I would not want a person such as himself being a senior advisor since it does not seem he adequately passed college stats – or he truly believes the American public is stupid.  With an advisor such as this, who relies on companies such as Harris Interactive for data, one leaves themselves open to all manner of scrutiny – the least of which is my opinion.

This was found on 4/22/09 

Education Week (4/22, Sawchuk) reports that “the nation’s oft-criticized systems for evaluating the quality of its educator workforce are poised to receive increased scrutiny, thanks to an Obama administration plan to require school districts to disclose how many teachers perform well or poorly.” The guidelines, issued earlier this month by the Education Department in conjunction with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, require states “to report on the number and percentage of teachers and principals scoring at each level on local districts’ evaluation instruments. States must also disclose whether the evaluation tools take student performance into account.” According to some experts, “the initiative’s success will depend on the administration’s follow-up steps — including the metrics the Education Department sets for reporting evaluation data, and what steps it expects states and districts to take with the resulting data.”

Stimulus Guidelines Require Districts To Report Teacher Performance Data.