Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Class matters; especially when it comes to class time endeavors...

In response to my post Corporatization of our schools just hit a road block...  this morning I saw this comment on Facebook:

I am not sure where the profit making machines for the 1% comes from. This would be better served not connecting the issue with the "Rich"

I think this is great example of how class becomes embedded into our debates and discussions in a way where must people don't even; and others don't want us to look cause class always makes for uncomfortable discussions.

People don't really realize the big money pushing for reforms behind the scenes.

As Brian Leiter noted this is an issue neckdeep in challenges/questions of class--who is getting resources and how they are being distributed:

There is only one problem confronting urban public schools, and it has nothing to do with the schools or the teachers, contrary to all the blather by idle-rich busybodies and the intellectually feeble politicans who do their bidding.  The primary problem with urban public schools is that they largely serve a population that lives under conditions of economic hardship, sometimes grotesque economic hardship, with all the attendant problems of poor nutrition, physical safety, availability of adult supervision after school, and suitable environments and incentives for school work.  That, of course, is why suburban public schools in affluent communities--with unionized teachers who are no different than those in the urban schools--always do better on measures of academic performance and outcomes.  If you don't have to worry whether there will be food for dinner, or whether you will be mugged, or if anyone will be available to take care of you, or whether you'll have a quiet place to work, it turns out to be easier to do well in school.  It's got nothing to do with the teachers, and everything to do with the environment.  (Here and there, fabulous teaching makes a difference, but you can't make policy around atypical cases.)  

Of course, it would be hard to generate enthusiasm among hedge-fund billionaire busy-bodies for doing something about the economic environment in which the victims live, so instead we have the absurd idea that if only the teachers were better, everything would be dandy, as well as the destructive idea that to make the teachers better, we need to measure their performance based on standardized test results.  (That idea, by the way, started with George W. Bush when he was Governor of Texas, and it successfully destroyed the public schools, as the curriculum devolved into "teaching to the test," rather than teaching.)

Rahm Emanuel's kids attend the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where 99% of the kids go on to college (and about 50% go on to what would be generally considered highly selective or "elite" colleges and universities).  There are some very good teachers at "Lab," and some not so good ones.  But no one ever dreams of suggesting that to be even better, those teachers should be paid according to standardized test results.  Lab School is successful for simple reasons:  it has resources and it has good students, half of whom come from academic families and the other half from with families with resources to support them (even if they aren't so good!).  The resources support a good curriculum, a well-compensated teaching staff, arts, enrichment programs, after-school activities, and more.   No one ever suggests we should "stop throwing money" at the school, that what "Lab" really needs is teachers whose students get higher test scores.  But this bullshit and blather is standard fare when it comes to the public schools.

Diane Ravitch over at her excellent education blog gives a run down of what Rahm really wants:

The real difference between the CTU and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is not money. By all accounts, the union and the mayor are close on compensation.

The real differences are about the corporate reform agenda. The mayor wants merit pay, more charters, evaluation of teachers by test scores, and all the other components of the national corporate reform agenda.

But little noticed by the national media is that none of these so-called reforms works or has any evidence to support it. Merit pay has failed wherever it was tried. Teacher evaluation by student test scores is opposed by the majority of researchers, and practical experience with it has led to confusion and uncertainty about whether student scores can identify the best and worst teachers. The charters in Chicago and elsewhere do not get better test scores than the regular public schools. Even in Detroit, only 6 of 25 charter high schools got better scores than the much-lamented Detroit public schools.

Valerie Strauss gives a good run down on the unproven nature of Emanuel's agenda:

Reformers like Emanuel want to use as a key measure of principal and teacher evaluation the standardized test scores of students, but assessment experts across the country say these tests aren’t designed for this purpose and that it is an invalid evaluation tool.

A number of states have passed laws requiring that test scores be used in evaluation in varying degrees, but Emanuel is at the upper edge with his plan to have the testing ultimately make up half of an educator's evaluation.

In fact, Emanuel received an open letter earlier this year from scores of professors and researchers from 16 universities throughout the Chicago metropolitan area saying this about test-based evaluation system for educators:

...The new evaluation system for teachers and principals centers on misconceptions about student growth, with potentially negative impact on the education of Chicago’s children. We believe it is our ethical obligation to raise awareness about how the proposed changes not only lack a sound research basis, but in some instances, have already proven to be harmful...

You can read the entire letter here

A major report by the National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academies, which include the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine, reported last year that:

The standardized test scores that have been trumpeted to show improvement in the schools provide limited information about the causes of improvements or variability in student performance.This would be true, presumably, for any school system that use standardized tests as a measure of achievement.

This hasn’t stopped the fabulously wealthy Gates Foundation from spending hundreds of millions of dollars to pilot evaluation systems that include test scores. Gates is a brilliant man but on school reform he is no expert. Unfortunately, he has an outsized say in the direction of reform because he can fund whatever he wants to. (The same holds true for other billionaires with school reform agendas that don’t stand up to the evidence.)

Some of the country’s best school systems use multiple measures to evaluate teachers that don’t include test scores, and they work just fine. Here’s one great post on how to do evaluation the right way.

Merit pay, or performance pay, is just what it sounds like — giving more money to educators for doing a great job. But the idea that offering more money will provide an incentive for teachers and principals to do a better job doesn’t actually work in the real world.

In fact, it’s been tried over and over since the 1920s, according to education historian Diane Ravitch, and failed every single time. The most comprehensive trial of teacher merit pay, conducted by economists at Vanderbilt University’s National Center for Performance Incentives, discovered that merit pay made no difference.Why? Teachers would like to make more money but most still work as hard as they can whether they get a bonus for it or not.

Besides, teachers also know that competing for bonus money destroys cooperation that is critical to a good teaching environment in a school, and most important, how “merit” is determined is not simple if you want to be fair.

There have recently been some studies on “loss aversion” — a psychological finding that losing something makes us feel worse than gaining the same thing makes us feel better — works to help incentivize teachers to do their best works. The studies are nonsense, as you can see here.

You may have read about some recent studies that show merit pay does work. Be careful to check methodology when you look at study results and whether the people who did them had a vested interest in the outcome.

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