Don’t Buy Bluster from Teacher Quality VAM-pires

The responses are predictable online and through social media any time I address teacher quality and policy focusing on teacher evaluation such as my recent commentary on Charleston adopting value-added methods (VAM).

How dare I, some respond, suggest that teacher quality does not matter!

The pattern is exhausting because most responding in indignation first misrepresent what I have claimed and then make the most extreme arguments themselves in order to derail the conversation along their own agenda, usually linked to the charter school movement grounded in teacher bashing and making unobtainable promises.

So let me state here that the central elements of what we know about teacher quality and efforts such as VAM-based teacher evaluation is that teacher quality is not an independent variable (any teacher may be effective for one student and ineffective for another, for example) and, since student high-stakes testing is not designed to measure teacher quality and is more strongly linked to out-of-school factors, VAM is both a horrible technique for identifying teacher quality and, ironically, a guaranteed process for devaluing the importance of teachers.

Teacher quality is unparalleled in importance in terms of student learning, but it is also nearly impossible to measure, quantify—especially through student scores on high-stakes standardized tests.

Teacher quality VAM-pires, then, often have agendas [1] that are masked by their bluster about teacher quality.

Trying to measure and quantify teacher quality is a mistake; linking any evaluation of teacher quality to student test scores lacks validity and reliability—and VAM discourages teachers from teaching the most challenging populations of students (high-poverty, special needs, English language learners).

Focusing on simplistic and inappropriate measures reduces teacher impact to 10-15% of what high-stakes standardized testing measures; in other words, VAM itself devalues teacher quality.

My informed argument, based on 18 years as a public school classroom teacher and 15 years as a teacher educator and scholar, then, is that we must recognize teacher quality is impacted by teacher preparation, teaching/learning conditions, student characteristics, and dozens of other factors inside and outside of schools—many of which are beyond the control of teachers or students.

As well, we must address the teacher quality issues that political and administrative leaders can control: class size, school funding, and most important of all, teacher assignment.

Just as decades of research have revealed that teacher quality accounts for no more than 10-15% of student test scores, decades of research show that affluent and white students are assigned the most experienced and certified teachers while poor and black/brown students are assigned new/inexperienced and un-/under-certified teachers.

The charter school crowd’s bluster about teacher quality is pure hokum because charter schools increase that inequity of teacher assignment by depending on new and uncertified teachers such as candidates from Teach For America.

No one is saying teacher quality does not matter—I clearly am not saying that—but dishonesty about teacher quality does lay at the feet of the edu-reformers and the VAM-pires who wave their collective arms any time we call them on their failed policies and their political agendas.


[1] See the evangelical urge of Broad-trained acolytes, the resume building and cut-and-run patterns of edu-reformers, and the post-truth practices of turn-around and charter advocacy.

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Post and Courier (Charleston, SC): CCSD plan for teachers won’t work

Post and Courier (Charleston, SC): CCSD plan for teachers won’t work

[see full submission with hyperlinks below]

Charleston School District Arriving Late to a Very Bad Party

P.L. Thomas, Professor, Furman University

The most telling aspect of Charleston County School District’s announcement about holding teachers accountable for student test scores may be in the second paragraph of Paul Bowers’s coverage: “District leaders say they don’t want to fire anyone — particularly not in the midst of a statewide teacher shortage that’s only getting worse.”

While it appears some are aware of the unintended consequences of new education policy, we must be concerned that such awareness has not helped better inform this recent decision to move forward with using value-added methods (VAM) in teacher evaluations.

Early research warned and current studies confirm that VAM fails to fulfill political promises, but also feeds existing problems. This pattern has been seen with school choice increasing segregation, exit exams causing higher drop-out rates, and high-stakes tests driving teaching to the test, asking far less of students.

First, we should acknowledge the flawed logic driving the use of VAM to increase teacher accountability. The recent concern about teacher quality is grounded in several false assumptions.

One is the “bad” teacher myth strongly associated with the stereotypical unionized teacher as portrayed in Waiting for Superman.

However, across the U.S. teachers in unionized states produce students with higher test scores that teachers in non-union (called right-to-work) states such as South Carolina. The problem with associating teacher quality and low student outcomes with union protection is that student test scores are more powerfully associated with poverty than any other factor.

This leads to the other false assumption that teacher quality is the most or one of the most important causes of student learning. In fact, teacher quality accounts for only about 10-15% of standardized test scores, the basis of VAM, while out-of-school factors remain the greatest influence, at 60%.

A final assumption is that using test data to evaluate teachers is objective and valid, and thus fair. Yet, many teachers are in content areas without standardized tests, and then, ironically, making any set of data high-stakes causes that data to be less credible (see Campbell’s Law).

Student test scores are poor evidence about teacher quality, and making those scores central to evaluating teachers is guaranteed to further erode that evidence’s usefulness and the process.

Matthew Di Carlo, blogging for the Albert Shanker Institute, details the unintended consequences of VAM as implemented in Houston.

While assessing the Houston teacher evaluation system, Julie Berry Cullen, Cory Koedel, and Eric Parsons discovered that teachers identified as weaker by their student test scores were already leaving at high rates before the new system was implemented in order to identify weak teachers.

In other words, Houston adopted a policy without investigating whether or not teacher quality was the key problem, without acknowledging that with high teacher attrition among so-called weaker teachers, schools were not achieving in ways they envisioned.

Here is one powerful lesson of education reform: Do not adopt a policy until you gather evidence of the problems; and assumptions about those problems are not enough.

After Houston adopted VAM-based evaluation of teacher, as Di Carlo explains, teachers identified by test scores as weak were even more likely to leave, but:

On the other hand, all exits increased under the new evaluations — including among teachers who were rated as average and high performers. The extent to which this spike is attributable to the new evaluation system per se is unclear, but it served to “dilute” the impact on student achievement of the increase in exits among low performers. There is also some indication that higher-rated teachers were more likely to switch out of schools with low-performing students after ETI (versus before the policy), which would also attenuate the impact of the policy.

Historically and currently, Charleston has a teacher problem, yet Houston is a powerful example of how VAM is not the solution to those problems.

The remaining challenge is recruiting and maintaining experienced and certified teachers in the schools that serve the most vulnerable students from high-poverty homes and communities.

The new policy linking teacher evaluations with student test scores will not address those challenges, and we can expect it will actually increase challenges to recruit new teachers and stem teacher attrition.

By adopting VAM and investing in critically discredited system, EVAAS, Charleston County School District is late to a very bad party. The students and community would be better served by making sure we know what the teacher quality problems are and then seeking ways to address those instead of choosing political expediency and wasting tax dollars on policies and programs already shown to fail.

VAM, Teacher Bashing, and Unintended Outcomes: “[A]ll [teacher] exits increased under the new evaluations”

Research analysis at Shanker Blog is among the very best available online, notably the work of Matthew Di Carlo.

The posts there are predictably nuanced and careful, dispassionate—to a fault. As a critical educator, I am on edge when I read these careful explications of educational research because they tend to stand so far back from drawing critical conclusions that they leave a great deal of room for forgiving awful and baseless policy.

Teacher Evaluations And Turnover In Houston is an extremely important post as it unpacks new research on the current era of teacher evaluations spawned during the Obama years, notably the increased use of value-added methods (VAM) that link teacher quality to student test scores.

I highly recommend reading the post in full, but here I want to add a few annotations to address both my concerns the analysis tip-toes when it should stomp and to emphasize a few key takeaways well addressed by Di Carlo.

Let me share a few passages, and I will boldface what I want to address; first, the opening:

We are now entering a time period in which we might start to see a lot of studies released about the impact of new teacher evaluations. This incredibly rapid policy shift, perhaps the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s education efforts, was sold based on illustrations of the importance of teacher quality.

The basic argument was that teacher effectiveness is perhaps the most important factor under schools’ control, and the best way to improve that effectiveness was to identify and remove ineffective teachers via new teacher evaluations. Without question, there was a logic to this approach, but dismissing or compelling the exits of low performing teachers does not occur in a vacuum. Even if a given policy causes more low performers to exit, the effects of this shift can be attenuated by turnover among higher performers, not to mention other important factors, such as the quality of applicants (Adnot et al. 2016).

To address incredibly flawed educational policy, I believe we must be much more careful about distinguishing between political/public claims and then how the research community poses the same issues.

As Adam Bessie has outlined, the “bad” teacher myth was never “sold” in the ways Di Carlo notes above. The film Waiting for Superman is a powerful example of how political and public discourse about “bad” teachers was primarily an argument that teacher quality was the singular or most important factor in student learning, period; politicians and the public almost never added the caveat “most important in-school factor.”

And we must acknowledge that the “bad” teacher movement driving new teacher evaluations including VAM was significantly grounded in anti-union sentiment and union-busting objectives—not about teacher quality or student learning.

The nuanced argument about teacher quality, in fact, was most often expressed among some researchers, while mostly absent from the media or political discourse, such as Di Carlo (from 2010):

But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error). In other words, though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms (see Hanushek et al. 1998; Rockoff 2003; Goldhaber et al. 1999; Rowan et al. 2002; Nye et al. 2004).

Next, further into the recent post:

Prior to ETI, there was a negative relationship between teacher effectiveness and exits – i.e., less effective teachers were more likely to exit than their more effective colleagues, with effectiveness here defined in terms of validated measures of teachers’ ability to raise students’ test scores (in part because the original value-added scores, unlike the other components of the system, are available both before and after the new evaluations were implemented).

A strong footnote for this important point—so-called weaker teachers were already leaving—is that the real teacher quality problems facing schools, notably high-poverty schools serving vulnerable populations of students, are a lack of equity in terms of teacher assignment (poor students, black/brown students, ELL students, and special needs students disproportionately are assigned year after year to new or inexperienced and un-/under-certified teachers; white and affluent students are gifted the most experienced and certified teachers) and the debilitating grind of high teacher attrition, turnover, in high-poverty and majority-minority schools.

Just as school choices increases educational problems such as segregation, VAM-based teacher evaluation does not address the real problems—equitable access to experienced and qualified teacher, and teacher turnover in high-poverty schools—while also increasing those problems.

And finally:

The big finding of Cullen et al. is that the relationship was stronger after the onset of the new evaluation system, with the estimated effects concentrated among low-performing teachers in schools serving low-performing students, who were more likely to exit the district than they were before ETI.

On the one hand, this suggests that the new evaluations worked as intended. Under a system in which principals were armed with better information about their teachers’ performance (full evaluation results instead of single year value-added scores), teachers who were less effective in raising test scores were more likely to exit the district (or be dismissed) post-ETI than they were prior to ETI, particularly in schools serving lower performing students. On the other hand, all exits increased under the new evaluations — including among teachers who were rated as average and high performers. The extent to which this spike is attributable to the new evaluation system per se is unclear, but it served to “dilute” the impact on student achievement of the increase in exits among low performers. There is also some indication that higher-rated teachers were more likely to switch out of schools with low-performing students after ETI (versus before the policy), which would also attenuate the impact of the policy.

The Big Caveat, of course, is that this evaluation process and concurrent analysis remain trapped in the efficient (read: lazy) use of test scores by students to determine teacher quality and effectiveness. That said, this study seems to show that VAM-type evaluations may actually push out so-called weak teachers—while also pushing out so-called effective and experienced teachers.

This preliminary evidence supports what many of us have been warning about during the Obama era of education reform: The “bad” teacher approach to education reform causes more harm than good because it misrepresents teacher quality and further de-professionalizes teaching, such as eroding the current teacher work force and discouraging the so-called “best and brightest” from choosing education as their career.

Di Carlo continues to offer incredibly important education research analysis, and I highly recommend anyone interested in education reform to return to this blog regularly. There you will find careful and crisp analysis—although I will continue to hope for the sort of analysis that will critically confront what lies beneath the political and public discourse about schools, education, teachers, and students.

The story inside the story of the research analyzed above is that beneath the “bad” teacher approach to education reform is a great deal of bad politics and bad media; and we must stop tip-toeing around those facts.

Teacher Quality: A Reader in 2017

Let me start with a full disclosure: Lawrence Baines is a colleague and friend with whom I have collaborated on several book projects and presentations. So I want to offer some friendly concerns about his thoughtful When ‘Highly Qualified’ Teachers Aren’t in Education Week.

Baines open with: “Recent research confirms that America’s most vulnerable children are being taught by the least-qualified teachers.”

This is incredibly important, but let’s clarify a few points. Vulnerable students include black and brown students, high-poverty students, English language learners, and special needs students. And Baines is highlighting a truly ugly fact about unwritten policies in education: these vulnerable populations of students are assigned disproportionately new and early-career teachers as well as un-/under-certified teachers.

Dozens of studies for many years have confirmed that administrations commonly “reward” veteran teachers by assigning them “good” students and advanced courses such as AP and IB.

Add to that dynamic that the rise of charter schools linked strongly with TFA has increased the likelihood that vulnerable students will be assured a continual stream of uncertified and new teachers.

Confronting the increased bureaucratization of teacher preparation and alternative certification programs, Baines makes his central case: “The continual dumbing-down of the preparation of teachers is not without consequences.”

I would argue that the “dumbing-down” is about the false attack on “bad” teachers as the primary or even single cause of low student achievement among, specifically, vulnerable students.

And the ugly consequence of that assault has been increasing accountability over teacher certification and teacher evaluation (such as using value-added methods) and thus demonizing teachers without improving teaching or learning.

Another repeated fact of education is that measurable student learning (usually test scores) is most strongly correlated with the socioeconomic status of students’ home; see this about Arkansas, which is typical across the U.S.

So here is the teacher quality dilemma: If we demand that teacher quality is the primary mechanism for improving student achievement, and if that is a false claim (which it is), we are doomed to both destroying the profession and discouraging anyone from entering that profession.

And Baines concludes: “All of the highest-performing countries in the world require teachers to obtain advanced degrees, demonstrate pedagogical and subject-matter expertise, accumulate significant teaching experience, and show an aptitude for working with children before stepping into the classroom as full-time teachers.”

Herein we are confronted with what it means to prepare well people to teach. And how do we disentangle teacher preparation and teacher evaluation from corrosive and ill-informed bureaucracy (certification and accreditation) while also providing the context within which we can create robust and challenging teacher education as well as ongoing professional development for teachers?

My short answer is that standards, certification, and accreditation are all the problems, not the solutions. Teacher education needs to be re-envisioned as the other disciplines, which are often self-regulating and robust because of professionalism and fidelity to the discipline among members of that discipline.

Since I have written on these issues often, I offer here a reader to help confront the issues raised by Baines:

Teacher Quality, Wiggins and Hattie: More Doing the Wrong Things the Right Ways

Addressing Teacher Quality Post-NCLB

What We Tolerate (and for Whom) v. What the Rich Demand: On Teacher Quality

Teacher Quality: On Hyperbole and Anecdotes

The Fatal Flaw of Teacher Education: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

What’s Wrong with Teacher Education?

The False Cult of Effort, the Gender Gap, and K-12 Teacher-Bashing

While the U.S. presidency is rarified air, the presidential election often reflects the best and worst of the American character.

As the country sits in the cusp of the end of the first black president’s administration and the likelihood of electing the first female president, what does the current election show about the lingering privilege of being white, male, and straight in the U.S.?

Being black, brown, female, gay, or transgender requires perfection while being white, male, and heterosexual allows any transgression to be excused.

Hillary must be perfect (her email controversy is oddly identical to millions of erased emails from private servers under George W. Bush, although that is of no real concern to the public or the media, for example), but Trump’s admitted behavior as a sexual predator is swept aside as just a man being one of the boys.

Yes, the glorious sanctity of the office of president must not be sullied—although the Republican Party has elected Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and W. Bush, a who’s who of unethical personal and political behaviors?

And in this dynamic of privilege we find the cult of effort—the implication that all these powerful white males are in power because of effort, because they deserve the success, earned the success.

Recall that Trump built this off the pittance of an inherited few million. …

On a smaller scale, then, is the K-12 teacher, a profession trapped in the cult of effort and the gender gap.

Having spent my career in part as a K-12 public school teacher and now as a tenured full professor, I have witnessed first-hand a powerful and ugly dynamic.

First, let me work backward.

My university has only about 30% female faculty, which reflects a male norm (linked with a white norm) of university professors:

profs-gender

Few professions have greater professional autonomy that being a professor. I can assure you that rarely do people even bother telling a professor what to do—and among those few, virtually none have any real influence.

The profession of being a professor is a white, male world of autonomy and significant prestige.

As above, there is also a false cult of effort among professors—the professorate, so goes the message, is mostly white and male because of the hard work of those white men.

And if you doubt that, listen carefully to the white male response to initiatives for increasing the diversity of professors: We must maintain our rigorous standards for hiring! they shout.

The cult of effort, the cult of rigor—these are codes for maintaining privilege.

The inverse of this dynamic is at the K-12 level of teaching, a work force still dominated by women:

k-12-teachwrs-gender-2

For K-12 teachers, historically and especially over the past two or three decades, the cult of effort has imposed on the American public that schools are failing primarily because of a slack teacher force (read: a mostly female teacher force), and the way to reform that lazy work force is to raise standard! and demand more!

Let us imagine for a moment that gender divide between the supreme autonomy of mostly male professors and the nearly absent professional autonomy and ridiculous accountability leveled at mostly female K-12 teachers.

The entirely inexcusable “no excuses” model implemented in high-poverty schools serving mostly black and brown students has also become the default environment of being a K-12 teacher: high demand, nearly superhuman demand that erases all professional autonomy and most of the human dignity of teaching.

Yes, teaching K-12 is very hard, but the cult of effort is mostly a lie, and the current high-stakes accountability paradigm is a central cause for driving away teachers.

The accountability era has intensified the historical marginalizing of K-12 teaching as just a woman’s profession; the stakes have been artificially increased while teacher autonomy has been even further eroded.

As a result, K-12 teachers have their work scripted and then are badgered for poor outcomes from the practices they didn’t even choose to implement.

The public and in-school environments for K-12 teachers are toxic—unprofessional and dehumanizing. Administrators who can go to the restroom any time they please demand teachers remain at their doors between classes and never leave a class unattended—relegating basic bodily functions to 20-minute lunch periods (if they are free of students) and planning time.

This reality cannot be disentangled from the gender gap reflected between professors in higher education and K-12 teachers—as well as the current presidential campaign.

K-12 teacher bashing is nested in sexism—assumptions that women are unable and unwilling to make the effort needed to educate children; and thus, K-12 teachers need to be scripted and held to high standards of accountability.

In the political and educational worlds, however, those demanding that accountability and driving the criticism are often far above the standards they espouse.

And that is the ugly truth about women, so-called racial minorities, and gay/transgendered people who must be perfect while white, straight men are forgiven for any and every transgression.

Our democracy suffers under that inequity of privilege and the profession of K-12 teaching is on life support because of the essentially nasty environment surrounding day-to-day teaching.

Democracy and K-12 teaching both require and deserve an atmosphere of patience, compassion, and kindness—traits marginalized by toxic masculinity and white privilege in order to maintain the unearned status of power in the U.S.

At the very least, no one should have to be perfect or everyone should have to be perfect.

Immediately, then, let’s confront how terribly flawed white, straight male leadership has been and is currently—disturbingly personified by Trump himself.

Next, the false cult of effort must end, replaced by the acknowledgement of privilege as central to who has power and why.

With the false cult of effort unmasked, the gender gap can then be erased as well.

From political leadership to the teaching of children in K-12 schools, we will all benefit greatly from the rich diversity of who can and will lead and teach us—especially if that leadership and teaching are rooted in patience and kindness, especially if basic human dignity and autonomy are promised to all.

Weekend Quick Takes June 25-26

Read Julian Vasquez Heilig’s What other universities should learn from UT, and note especially this:

Not discussed in the current ruling, but I believe relevant, is that Fisher did not fall below a bright line by which whites were rejected and minorities admitted. As reported in The Nation, UT-Austin offered admission “to some students with lower test scores and grades than Fisher. Five of those students were Black or Latino. Forty-two were white.” Additionally, “168 black and Latino students with grades as good as or better than Fisher’s who were also denied entry into the university that year.”

It is unfortunate that Fisher believed wrongly, in spite of factual evidence and data to the contrary, that she was discriminated against because she was white. In fact, by pursuing a case where the data was very clear on this point, she continued the insecurity and insidiousness of racial prejudice that has unfortunately permeated our society for centuries.

Also see his co-authored Actuating equity?: Historical and contemporary analyses of African American access to selective higher education from Sweatt to the Top 10% Law


There may be many cracks in Maintaining the Charter Mirage: Progressive Racism, including Paul Hewitt’s A modest proposal for charter schools; consider this:

Now that I have established myself as an opponent of charter schools I have a proposal for the Walton family and charter school proponents everywhere. I propose that you go against my friend’s admonition that we need public schools for charters to succeed. If charter schools are so good, let’s make every school in the current school district a charter school. Let’s dissolve the traditional school board and have them become trustees of school facilities. Let’s take all the existing school facilities and have charter school groups nationwide bid through proposals to take over and run that school. State law may need to be altered a little for this grand experiment. For example, no student living in the current school boundaries could transfer to a school in another neighboring school district. This would ensure that the charters serve all students in the community including the special education, English language learners, and at-risk children to ensure that no child could be “pushed out.”

Just imagine, every school would be a charter school and parents could have their choice of schools for their child. The traditional lottery system would be used at each school, and if the parent wasn’t lucky enough to get their first choice they could go to their second or third. Because the population of the entire school district would be involved there could be no discrimination and all students, even the at-risk, would be served. The traditional creaming of top students that is the major criticism of charters would be eliminated. This would be a completely free-market school choice system.

The double irony to this confrontation as (mostly) satire is that transforming all public schools into charter schools has already occurred—in New Orleans; see Endgame: Disaster Capitalism, New Orleans, and the Charter Scam.

And while edureformers continue to mislead political leaders and the public about such turnover/turnarounds, New Orleans is but one example of how these market-based reforms have proven to be utter failures.


In 1949, former NCTE president and English teacher/educator Lou LaBrant argued: “Our language programs have been set up as costume parties and not anything more basic than that” (p. 16).

In 2016, former NCTE president and esteemed educator and activist Joanne Yatvin confronts the same disturbing dynamic in her Too Little and Too Late.

Regretfully, Yatvin’s powerful refuting of the National Reading Panel, at the base of No Child Left Behind, was mostly ignored by political leaders and the public. Yet, she is once again ringing a bell that must be heard:

To the Editor:

As a retired educator, still deeply involved with the teaching of reading and writing, I was dismayed to read that the Portland Public schools are still tied to one-size-fit all commercial materials for teaching reading and considering combining pieces from several of them to make a new program. By this time experienced teachers should have learned that each child learns to read in his own time frame and in his own way, and that real literature and non-fiction are far better tools than anything concocted by commercial publishers.

Learning to read is not all that difficult when children are given interesting and well-written books for group activities and allowed to choose books that appeal to them to read on their own. It also helps when adults read aloud interesting books with illustrations on a regular basis. That is how children learn vocabulary and begin to understand the world outside their own homes and neighborhoods. Reading poetry helps too, because of the repeated word sounds and lines.

Over all, we should remember that reading and writing have been around for many centuries, and that the people who wanted and needed to use those skills found them easy to learn– often without a teacher, and certainly without any breakdown into separate skills, workbook exercises, or tests.

Sincerely yours,
Joanne Yatvin

The entire accountability reform movement driven by ever-new standards and ever-new high-stakes tests benefits mostly the education market—not students, not teachers.

In fact, as my current graduate literacy course has revealed to me, teachers both recognize the negative impact of required reading programs and materials and feel powerless to set those materials aside in order to implement what their children actually need.


I entered the field of education fueled by the belief that traditional schooling needed to be reformed. I am a public school advocate, but I also recognize that traditional public schools have served white middle-class and affluent children well (even though, as I can attest, that population often excels in spite of traditional schooling) while mostly failing vulnerable populations of students, specifically black, brown, and poor children.

My fellow pro-public school friends have been proudly sharing Jack Schneider’s America’s Not-So-Broken Education System.

While both Schneider and those sharing his piece are, I am certain, driven by good intentions, I must caution that such defenses of public schools suffer from whitewashing—a not-so-subtle middle-class lens that fails to adequately emphasize the racist and classist policies entrenched in public schools.

Public education as a social reform mechanism has not happened; public schools more often than not reflect and perpetuate the very worst aspects of our society.

If I may, I believe those of us who are adamant about supporting public education are committed to the potential, the promise that public education could be or should be something better, at the very least a model of equity if not a lever for equity.


Related to the above concern, access to experienced and certified teachers is a key aspect of both how our public schools have failed and how we are currently committed to the very worst aspects of education reform (for example, Teach For America and value-added methods for teacher evaluation).

Derek Black has compiled a powerful and important examination of Taking Teacher Quality Seriously.

See the abstract:

Although access to quality teachers is one of the most important aspects of a quality education, explicit concern with teacher quality has been conspicuously absent from past litigation over the right to education. Instead, past litigation has focused almost exclusively on funding. Though that litigation has narrowed gross funding gaps between schools in many states, it has not changed what matters most: access to quality teachers.

This Article proposes a break from the traditional approach to litigating the constitutional right to education. Rather than constitutionalizing adequate or equal funding, courts should constitutionalize quality teaching. The recent success of the constitutional challenge to tenure offers the first step in this direction. But the focus on teacher tenure alone is misplaced. Eliminating tenure, without addressing more important fundamental challenges for the teaching profession, may just make matters worse. Thus, this Article argues for a broader intervention strategy. When evaluating claims that students have been deprived of their constitutional right to education, courts should first ensure that states equally distribute existing quality teachers, regardless of the supply. Courts should then address state policies that affect the supply of teachers, which include far more than just salaries. When those remedies still prove insufficient to ensure access to quality teachers, courts must ensure that the removal of ineffective teachers is possible.


And a perfect companion for your weekend reading comes from 1969: “Bullshit and the Art of Crap -Detection” by Neil Postman.

Here’s just a taste:

Thus, my main purpose this afternoon is to introduce the subject of bullshit to the NCTE. It is a subject, one might say, that needs no introduction to the NCTE, but I want to do it in a way that would allow bullshit to take its place alongside our literary heritage, grammatical theory, the topic sentence, and correct usage as part of the content of English instruction. For this reason, I will have to use 15 minutes or so of your time to discuss the taxonomy of bullshit. It is important for you to pay close attention to this, since I am going to give a quiz at the conclusion.

6 June 2016 Reader: Mythbuster Edition

In the spirit that feels appropriate in the wake of the death of Muhammad Ali—and the concurrent failure of mainstream reflections ignoring or whitewashing the real history of his life—I offer below a collection of education-related links that can serve as powerful mythbusters for the ongoing false claims common in the mainstream media and among political leaders as well as edureformers.

Charter Schools

Failing The Test Series

Regardless of motives, the charter initiatives in Oakland and Los Angeles together signal a significant watershed in the growth of a statewide movement that was birthed by California’s Charter Schools Act of 1992 to create classroom laboratories that might develop the dynamic new curricula and teaching methods needed to reinvigorate schools that were failing the state’s most underserved and disadvantaged children.

How that modest experiment in fixing neighborhood public schools could morph in less than 25 years into the replacement of public schools with an unproven parallel system of privately run, taxpayer-funded academies is only half the story of California’s education wars that will be examined in this series, much of which is based on conversations with both sides of the charter school debate. Over the next few days Capital & Main will also look at:

  • The influence wielded by libertarian philanthropists who bankroll the 50-50 takeovers.
  • How charter schools spend less time and money on students with learning disabilities.
  • The lack of charter school transparency and accountability.
  • How charter expansion is pushing Oakland’s public school district toward a fateful tipping point.
  • The success of less radical yet more effective reforms that get scant media coverage.
  • Nine solution takeaways for struggling schools.

(from Failing the Test: A New Series Examines Charter Schools, Bill Raden)

Charters and Access: Here is Evidence, Julian Vasquez Helig

No, Eva, You Can’t Do Whatever You Want, Jersey Jazzman

Teacher Effectiveness/Experience

Does Teaching Experience Increase Teacher Effectiveness?: A Review of the Research, Tara Kini and Anne Podolsky

Based on our review of 30 studies published within the last 15 years that analyze the effect of teaching experience on student outcomes in the United States and met our methodological criteria, we find that:

  1. Teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career. Gains in teacher effectiveness associated with experience are most steep in teachers’ initial years, but continue to be significant as teachers reach the second, and often third, decades of their careers.
  2. As teachers gain experience, their students not only learn more, as measured by standardized tests, they are also more likely to do better on other measures of success, such as school attendance.
  3. Teachers’ effectiveness increases at a greater rate when they teach in a supportive and collegial working environment, and when they accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.
  4. More experienced teachers support greater student learning for their colleagues and the school as a whole, as well as for their own students.

Vouchers

On negative effects of vouchers, Mark Dynarski

Recent research on statewide voucher programs in Louisiana and Indiana has found that public school students that received vouchers to attend private schools subsequently scored lower on reading and math tests compared to similar students that remained in public schools. The magnitudes of the negative impacts were large. These studies used rigorous research designs that allow for strong causal conclusions. And they showed that the results were not explained by the particular tests that were used or the possibility that students receiving vouchers transferred out of above-average public schools.

Another explanation is that our historical understanding of the superior performance of private schools is no longer accurate. Since the nineties, public schools have been under heavy pressure to improve test scores. Private schools were exempt from these accountability requirements. A recent study showed that public schools closed the score gap with private schools. That study did not look specifically at Louisiana and Indiana, but trends in scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for public school students in those states are similar to national trends.

In education as in medicine, ‘first, do no harm’ is a powerful guiding principle. A case to use taxpayer funds to send children of low-income parents to private schools is based on an expectation that the outcome will be positive. These recent findings point in the other direction. More needs to be known about long-term outcomes from these recently implemented voucher programs to make the case that they are a good investment of public funds. As well, we need to know if private schools would up their game in a scenario in which their performance with voucher students is reported publicly and subject to both regulatory and market accountability.

School Discipline, Race, and Gender

Black Girls and School Discipline: Four Researchers Unpack K-12’s Racial Bias

* Please note the disturbing series of comments at the end.

Most of the discussion around the disproportionality of black students’ suspension or expulsion from K-12 schools has focused on boys. Only more recently have researchers begun to surface the numbers of black girls who are subject to severe disciplinary measures in schools, including by school resource officers.

According to federal data, black girls are suspended from school at a rate that is six times higher than that of their white female peers. In New York City and Boston, black girls represented 56 percent and 61 percent, respectively, of all girls disciplined in those cities’ K-12 schools, even as incidents of discipline against black girls go underreported. Black girls receive harsher criminal sentences than their white female peers do in the juvenile-justice system, and they also represent its fastest-growing population.

For this special Commentary package, Education Week Commentary sat down with researchers Adrienne D. Dixson, Shaun R. Harper, Bettina L. Love, and Terri N. Watson at this spring’s American Educational Research Association conference to discuss their perspectives on this crisis.

School Funding

New Study Connects the Dots Between School Funding Choices and Student Achievement, Highlighting the Dangers of Retrenchment in Courts, Derek Black

Mind the Gap: 20 Years of Progress and Retrenchment in School Funding and Achievement Gaps, Bruce D. BakerDanielle Farrie, and David G. Sciarra

Although there has been significant progress in the long term, achievement gaps among the nation’s students persist. Many factors have contributed to the disparities in outcomes, and societal changes can explain progress, or lack thereof, over the past few decades. This is well documented in the 2010 Educational Testing Service (ETS) report Black–White Achievement Gaps: When Progress Stopped, which explored achievement gap trends and identified the changing conditions that may have influenced those trends. In this report, we extend that work by focusing on the relationship between school funding, resource allocation, and achievement among students from low-income families. We tackle the assumption that greater resources, delivered through fair and equitable school funding systems, could help raise academic outcomes and reduce the achievement gap. The goal is to provide convincing evidence that state finance policies have consequences in terms of the level and distribution of resources, here limited to staffing characteristics, and that the resulting allocation of resources is also associated with changes in both the level of academic achievement and achievement gaps between low-income children and their peers. Using more than 20 years of revenue and expenditure data for schools, we empirically test the idea that increasing investments in schools generally is associated with greater access to resources as measured by staffing ratios, class sizes, and the competitiveness of teacher wages. When the findings presented here are considered with the strong body of academic literature on the positive relationship between substantive and sustained state school finance reforms and improved student outcomes, a strong case can be made that state and federal policy focused on improving state finance systems to ensure equitable funding and improving access to resources for children from low-income families is a key strategy to improve outcomes and close achievement gaps.

Portfolio/Takeover Districts

The “Portfolio” Approach to School District Governance, William J. Mathis and Kevin G. Welner

Beneath the abundant and vigorous advocacy lies a very limited body of generally accepted research. Understanding the effects of “portfolio district reform” is hampered by messy reform contexts, where portfolios are only one of several major ongoing reforms, thus weakening causal inferences. Understanding these effects is also hampered by definitional problems—elastic labels with different components and different names being applied in different places.12 Further, the school cultural changes are often massive, interactions are complex, and politicization generates a great deal of noise. This renders the isolation of specific facets enormously difficult.13 Yet amidst the claims and counterclaims,14 several findings are clear:

  1. Charter schools do not appear to have much impact on test scores, but they do have some negative unintended consequences.15
  2. Similarly, school closures may have some positive or negative impact, but they certainly result in instability.16
  3. School turnaround approaches have, in general, been very disappointing, in large part because of the problems with closures and charter schools.17 The churn in the system, loss of institutional knowledge and loss of culture results in community and school disturbance and instability. Closing even low-performing schools can prove disruptive as community support dissipates, particularly if higher performing schools are not readily available.
  4. Research on mayoral control shows mixed evidence concerning effects on test scores.18

We would not be surprised to see some “portfolio districts” see some benefits, while others will see primarily detriments. Governance changes—particularly those aimed at decentralization and deregulation—tend to involve complex trade-offs. Opponents will be able to point to failures; advocates will be able to point to successes. In the end, though, student outcomes in under-resourced urban districts will continue to be driven by larger societal inequities.