Shouldn’t we use data for the intended purpose?

http://articles.latimes.com/2010/aug/14/local/la-me-teachers-value-20100815

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw

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: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/10/education/10teacher.html?_r=1&hpw

“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.

Advertisements

When People Lie About Numbers…..

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/29/education/29scores.html?_r=1&hpw

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/01/education/01schools.html?hpw

and the most recent update:  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/nyregion/16gap.html?_r=1&hpw

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw

even more updates

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/11/education/11scores.html?ref=education

and more updates

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/education/20grades.html?hpw

For many years I have personally, publicly and professionally questioned the efficacy and reliability of school testing in the spring.  Anything multiple choice automatically reeks of not know ing much due to the ‘chance’ issue (college statistics is a great course for understanding this phenomenon).  Depending on where one sets the ‘line’ for a pass also has a great deal to do with mediocrity – set the line high and few pass, set the line low and many pass.  The line becomes the definition of success rather than the representation of the line.  This is what NCLB and charter schools brought us – a moving line with justification.  Charter schools never go public to demonstrate how they did exceedingly well compared to the surrounding school district, county, state when something like this occurs – they can not demonstrate the success they have been portraying.

By order of the principal, codified in the school’s teacher handbook, all teachers should grade their classes in the same way: 30 percent of students should earn a grade in the A range, 40 percent B’s, 25 percent C’s, and no more than 5 percent D’s. As long as they show up, they should not fail.   Lynn Passarella

As the case in New York, noted above, demonstrates, standardized testing has its limits and to base much credence on these tests is an attempt to fool the public.  The way the test issue is addressed even seems like something Michelle Rees of Washington D.C. fame would say.  As if calibration of test scores is an acceptable answer for cheating students of an education by expecting less of their parents (in this case, many parents thought their parenting was GREAT and this is why their children were ‘proficient’) is acceptable, at least it is a different place to put the pile of blame (rotating the blame around also confuses people).

It would seem that the ‘great experiment’ of education we have played on our students has had some unintended consequences which will be difficult to undo or re-do as the case may be. Rather than feeling vindicated in any way, I am deeply troubled that I was correct in what I have said over the years and had to pay a high price for what I believed.  Not only am I (and many teachers across the country) paying the price now by evaluation systems completely lacking in inherent integrity, I will pay later when the self same students who were professed to be proficient and are not, do not get to college and succeed. I only have half of my working life left……not enough time to turn around what has been going on for 50 years. 

It takes approximately 50-100 years to undo 10 consecutive years of not or improperly educating a population. You do the numbers.

As of 10 PM Pacific Time on 1 August 2010, it does not appear anyone is taking this issue to seriously – see NYTimes article number two above.  I do have to give kudos to all the spin doctors, especially from charter schools who are and will continue to use this issue as a grand manipulation instead of owning up to the fact they tried to play the game better than the rest –

At the main campus of the Harlem Promise Academy, one of the city’s top-ranked charter schools, proficiency in third-grade math dropped from 100 percent to 56 percent.

“There are two reactions those of us in this business can have,” said Geoffrey Canada, the chief executive of the Harlem Children’s Zone, which operates the school. “One is to complain, and it’s human nature to do that. The other is to say we need to do something dramatically more intensive and powerful to prepare our kids. We are going to look at the mirror and say we have got to do better.”

In New York City, charter schools, a touchstone of school reform, had been outperforming traditional schools on state tests. But due to steep losses, they are now even with traditional schools on the English test, though they maintained an advantage in math. Statewide, the proficiency rate for charter schools is now one point lower in math and 10 points lower in English than at traditional schools.

Again, what I find so deeply disturbing is how the lies have played out on students and parents and all I can think of is Caveat Emptor, which seems so hollow since charter schools ARE public education.  If this were Wall Street having to rewrite numbers, heads would roll.  The good part of this (there is always a silver lining) is surely employment for PR will increase exponentially to solve this problem.

Veneer

This morning became a somewhat involved research project and philosophy review, mixed with morality and sprinkled by determining my level of desperation for full time employment.  As with all good thinking and then writing, it is important to make sure you are using the correct vocabulary for what you are explaining/describing.  In addition, it is important to have appropriate verbiage by other learned people who are more adept at explaining difficult concepts you wish to explore. 

 Since this is the age of ‘technology’ and this piece is not being submitted for grade or transcript (more on this specific reference later), I chose to use the lesser, immediately available computer resources.  I am not attempting to diminish the quality of the content supplied via on line sources;  I want people to understand the nature of the selection of sources.

One of three definitions supplied by Merriam-Websters Online Dictionary for the word veneer:

 a superficial or deceptively attractive appearance, display, or effect : facade, gloss <a veneer of tolerance>

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Sigma

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Total_quality_management

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_conflict_theory

The ruling class exploits and oppresses the subject class. As a result there is a basic conflict of interest between the two classes.

When I think of veneer, I tend to immediately use the Ikea example – great, cheap and purposeful but ultimately disposable furniture which tends to have a limited life span.  Typically Ikea uses a nice quality veneer to finish off anything with wood and often times they do use whole wood (not processed ply or particle) and it serves the immediate purpose well – although the amount of ‘free’ Ikea this, that and the other on Craigslist can cause concern around the concept of disposable – not as disposable as a baby diaper but less disposable than Duncan Phyfe.  

Using the analogy above of Ikea, I tend to look at charter schools through this lens.  Charter schools meet the American societial need of instant gratification through a deceptively attractive appearance (most notably the ‘web site’), often at a previously used school site or industrial facility which has been modified to meet the standards of today in relationship to everything from asbestos, lead paint to technology and fire doors.   There is an organized display of student work, print outs and graphs of grades, citizenship and other ephemera, but the school is, well, a school with a veneer.  

I would feel differently about charter schools if, and this is the huge if, they were not a business model.  A not for profit business model is

 A non-profit organization (abbreviated as NPO, also known as a not-for-profit organization) is an organization that does not distribute its surplus funds to owners or shareholders, but instead uses them to help pursue its goals. – Wikipedia

Since charter schools operate as a business venture, they are most tied to standard business practices which can include profitablity or return on investment. Although I don’t believe any charter school has been able to ‘reinvest’ its monies into its own programs (hence the never ending search for funding), the return on investment component is actually an emotive model with no data to support it.  Charter schools operate under the ideology that they make society better by educating more students and put more appropriately educated and trained people into the workforce (via college and/or tradeschool). 

There are exactlyfour measures of success which can be evaluated at any school (regular public, charter public or private): (1) grades and standardized test grades (2) student longevity at a particular school (3) staff longevity (4) ending up with extra funds at end of the school year.  All schools are implicitly expected to prepare students for future success and community membership by obtaining a job via a trade or professional designation.

All other factors vary greatly since charter schools are often not just community schools, but schools of choice and parents figure out how to get their child to a school of their choice in the same manner as a private school.  Charter schools use the same state standards, textbooks, curriculum and off the shelf literacy and math intervention packages.  Currently, most schools of all types now use similar food purveyors.   Although charter schools state the economic and racial facts of their school, these are based both on composition by immediate community members and those parents who get their children to said school so there may not be the same variability of a school in an area which serves a larger, broader community.

Once you get past the previous two paragraphs, a charter school is veneer based on how well their development department can do fund raising and how well the marketing department can attract attention.  Being a not for profit even sounds ‘nice’ although it is a form of a business model in the same vein as a religious organization (Jewish, Muslim, Christian, B’hai, Bhuddist and so on, to give examples) who uses any monetary resources to further their own ideology by putting the money back into their own business venture.

Although charter schools are supposed to be governed by community members and not the school district, these lines are often blurred through political issues, facility sharing, economies of scale and other factors which help businesses function within budget.   Since almost no one knows what a charter school is (including teachers at the school and parents of students attending the school) except an ‘alternative’ it is rare to find oversight of any degree and most of the oversight comes in the form of business as opposed to educational since it is difficult to regulate and make any sense of a determination about a school with less than five years of test scores. 

 In the gray areas of whether a charter school is a school or a business, many, many interesting things happen and it is this lax environment where many charter schools thrive and provide a particularly virulent ideology which actually, due to the veneer, sounds wonderful but belies some moderately distasteful issues.   http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/26/education/26charters.html?ref=charter_schools

 This piece caught my attention a week ago and I am inserting it here to help others understand the charter school navigational issues BEFORE I address my experiences  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/04/us/04bccharter.html?ref=education

When you read the article mentioned above, you should note the following:

CAVA schools rely on the honor system because, short of fingerprint or facial recognition, there is no way to be sure who is tapping at the keyboard.

K12 reports that its students test “near state averages,” according to documents filed with the S.E.C. Last year, at CAVA’s San Mateo school, 57 percent of students achieved proficiency or above in English; 33 percent were proficient or advanced in math. Nearly 30 percent of the high school students drop out, which is higher than the state average of 24 percent.

Oversight for California public charter schools falls to the authorizing districts. Although the Jefferson Elementary School district reviews CAVA’s curriculum and its budget, it lacks the manpower to verify the records.

“We have to take their word for it (grades),” said Enrique Navas, assistant superintendent of business services at the district. “It’s a paper review.”  *

He added that there was minimal overhead and minimal (financial) accountability.-Luis Huerta **

*  and ** are important for the following: If San Mateo USD can not afford to do the ‘paper review’, I can guarantee, Oakland, SFUSD, etc. lack the manpower and money to do the paper review, which means, trust becomes a big deal……… http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/education/11cheat.html?hpw   and if teachers and principals cheat, I can guarantee parents cheat.   And, I might add, the cheating is not just with on line charter schools as I have had experiences with free standing charter schools where teachers and administrators cheat to improve test scores.

Cheating is interesting in that it is not just test scores which are manipulated. Cheating can be grades given (inflated), cheating can be giving credits/units at high school, college and so on.  Cheating, as defined, is  (1)  to deprive of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud
(2)  to influence or lead by deceit, trick, or artifice  (3)  to elude or thwart by or as if by outwitting.

Charter schools use a very proper and good natured veneer, full of purpose and nice colors to cheat in multiple ways.  I will address the ones I have been privy to so I can get back to the issue of grades and/or transcripts noted in the opening.

(1) In Oakland, a charter school where the principal specifically told the RSP teacher in a staff meeting (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) it was okay to talk to a parent and assure her it was okay that her daughter, who was special needs, not struggle with the standardized testing and could request in writing for her daughter not to take the test.  It was also noted the RSP teacher could speak to parents of other students in similar circumstances.   Said charter school is now working at amping up its special ed program as it somehow found out a school can not have parents dismiss an IEP at a charter school, merely because the school is a ‘school of choice’ and lacks funding for adequate implementation of an IEP.

(2) Perpetual release question review and special test prep just prior to spring testing.

(3) Tubing by teachers and principal. If you do not know what this is, please read NY Times article above. It is common practice in public schools and has been done as long as I have been teaching.

(4) Grade inflation, whereby you( in my case math and science teacher)  are instructed by your principal at end of semester(s) to ‘manipulate’ the data in such a way the numbers show more students ‘passing’ and moving on to next grade, even when they may be in a literacy and/or math intervention program.  There is a program called Grade Pro which will let you configure the grade cuts such that on a scale of 1-10, you could make a cut at 8.95 instead of 9 and that would put at least one more student over the top….., offer a struggling student an alternate assignment to make up within 48 hours of grades being done – an assignment that can, in effect demonstrate a semesters worth of learning but not be too difficult.

(5) Independent study packets which are not graded for quality of answers (as in, does the student get “it”) but a type of crystal ball ‘global’ I feel method is applied because the population is not in one place very long and they need to get their high school diploma credits.  A student can obtain a diploma IF TEACHERS ATTEST to their passing the content and essentially use any type of ‘assessment’ they choose.  Passing the CAHSEE, spring testing, etc. are other items whereby the CAHSEE can be taken over and over until passed to provide the documentation of at least 4-8th Grade level literacy and math (algebra).   Passing the CAHSEE is a new requirement for a high school diploma, however, it can be obtained without ever effectively going to school.  I witnessed this particular foible this past week while looking into a potential new job.  When I realized what the game was about (the independent study school is specifically for parolees), I could not participate as it merely reinforces the victimization of the very same population ( this school did it around the veneer of restorative justice) which has been played by the system forever. Further reinforcing the system is about jumping through hoops, not really being functionally literate or having math skills, is not what I am about, no matter how nice the veneer.

(6) Resetting the baseline of test scores by creating a ‘new’ school, for example a charter school.  It takes one year for each grade to get a baseline. The next year is when growth must begin to be demonstrated. Resetting the baseline is great for school districts which have schools that are on the list of not having adequate AYP growth as it gives a reprieve to the students and staff whether or not the staff is actually reconfigured.

(7) And the best scam of all, the one charter schools are really successful at because they are in fact a business which does grant writing for additional funding – fudging the evaluation data ( Funders want to know that their dollars actually did some good. So decide now how you will evaluate the impact of your project. Include what records you will keep or data you will collect, and how you will use that data.)  to the organization who ‘fronted’ the money for your program.     Charter schools are wonderful at the touchy/feely veneer and great at creating manipulated statistics alongside standardized test scores to ‘demonstrate’ how much good the funding was for the students.  As a general rule, charter schools cull the data at the last possible minute, have the development director make it nice (and make nice to the organization which supplied the money) and provide self referential anecdotals.  

At the end of the day, it is actually my wonder if charter schools do anything differently or better except for marketing, fund raising and veneer.  Since I have only been able to find data regarding how many students are in college at various points through www.completecollege.org,  I am not sure charter schools are better. What I do know is they are equally culpable of cheating and in some cases, since they have more at stake, more egregious in areas of data.

Sadly, I have been accused of not being a ‘player’ because I will not go along with the various games at school of grade inflation, manifestations of ‘cheating’ or just making the data sing.  Due to this issue, if I were to name names of specific people and schools who do, I would have the equivalent of a fatwah (by some local school districts) placed on me for speaking freely and truthfully about my experiences both within charter schools and regular public schools.  You become dangerous if you actually ask questions and ‘know’ what is going on.  So, when the burden gets to be too much, I leave rather than succomb to the pressure and games I am asked to play to get those numbers and test scores up.  Being moral has a correlation with being unemployed….

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw

Pinning Data on a Map

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/03/09/MNSC1CCPHU.DTL

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article/comments/view?f=/c/a/2010/03/08/MNSC1CCPHU.DTL

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw

I have not had the time today since the release of the California Department of Education posted its list regarding the schools in the bottom 5% of California. In looking at the list though, there were some things I noticed – no, it has nothing to do with race, that is too obvious and for the politicians to trash out.  My observations are a bit more difficult to track. If anyone who reads this article has an efficient way to track down this data, please share.

(1) For each school on the list, how many charter schools are within 1, 3, 5 and 10 miles of the school?

(2) How long has each charter school been there?

These two questions, on the surface seem unreasonable, yet one thing charter schools get to do which other schools can not is ‘reset’ the testing data.  Example: At an established public school, there are years of data and one can evaluate trends. In charter schools, test data begins slowly, with the grades they open the school with and it takes two years to get data for comparison purposes.  If a charter schools starts with only Grade 6,  data coming out of Grade 8 would start five years later (year one to get benchmark Grade 6, year two to start a trend for Grade 6 and get benchmark data for Grade 7, year three to have cumulative data for Grade 6 and trend data for grade 7 and start Grade 8, year four would provide three years of Grade 6 data, two years of Grade 7 data and one year of Grade 8 data and in year five, there would now be two years of Grade 8 data).  By charter schools effectively creating a new baseline each time one opens, they are not on the list to be monitored as there are no test scores.

In addition to the test scores issues, students who remain at regular public schools may be in dire poverty where parents can not get them to a charter school which may be of higher quality but at a distance and so the charter schools, in essence, cull the parents and their children who would be successful no matter where they went to school, leaving a group of students who would struggle (albeit probably less at a charter school) at any school for a few years.

This footwork has not been acknowledged in the data collection and charter schools are just now on ten to 12 years of age, give or take.

(3) What acccess to REAL grocery stores and farmers markets do the families of students at these underperforming schools have?

(4) What access to affordable health care do the families of students at these underperforming schools have?

It is well known that a child has a difficult time focusing and learning without proper pre and post natal nutririon as well as protein while the child is growing and developing. So essential is the element of nutrition, we tend to give students things such as orange juice on spring testing days. We all know what good nutrition looks like, sadly we do not practice it.

Health care is essential. It is impossible to function with a toothache or any substantial sickness.  When children are not able to receive appropriate health care, they tend to ‘never quite get well’.  It could be anything from ear infections which prevent aural processing (hearing) to headaches to constant low grade infections.  Ultimately, the healthcare becomes a visit to the emergency room when there is no other alternative and this in and of itself does not solve anything but the immediate problem.

(5) In the communities with the failing schools, are there libraries? Parks? Places where kids can safely go to be with other children or is the community so unsafe that kids are either at school or home?

(6) What is the education level of the parents of the children at the underperforming schools and what is being done to get these parents back to school?

Normal development requires physical activity and a time to alleviate stress which causes cortisol to build up in the body.  Kids and families who live in highly stressed environments are constantly on ‘alert’ mode and do not sleep well.  This can be from the neighborhood, child abuse,  poverty and other issues such as poor quality housing.

When parents themselves are behind the eight ball since they may not have made it through algebra or even graduated high school, it is quite ambitious for them to have higher aspirations for their  children. The parents may feel frustrated at lack of access to the services and support that “white and Asian, middle class and above families” know about.  This clear difference in access is a major issue related to poverty.

After evaluating my questions above (I have some more but need to sort out how to word them), I really wonder if changing teachers and a principal at a school is the total answer, as it should not be.  When will we all look at the roots of our problems, rather than the closest thing we see to point a finger at?

I suspect we will keep repeating our errors until we begin to address the not so nice, not so easy to nail down data and fix those problems. Ironically, those problems, in the long run are usually easier and cheaper to fix then re-organizing a school.  It is not the actual money, it is HOW the money is spent that changes outcomes.

Update:

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

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article/article?f=/c/a/2009/09/15/MNOU19N6G8.DTL

update: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/16/nyregion/16gap.html?_r=1&hpw

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw

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.

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.

http://www.teachermagazine.org/tm/articles/2009/06/03/060309tln_marshall.h21.html?tkn=WTUFI3g9E7qTrkw%252FwKuOYa%252F29zCdA8FrV6nY

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/05/business/economy/05view.html?hpw