education reform and the monsters it fights

In last week’s Ed Bites, I mentioned two pieces — one by Hanushek, and the other by Gates — that debated the merits of releasing the value-added scores for public school teachers in New York City. Since last week, the scores have been released, and people everywhere are having a field day with the data. Predictably, the fallout is terrifying. Los Angeles released its scores back in August 2010 with results that fared little better. In fact, many question whether one teacher’s suicide was the result of his poor performance on the evaluation.

Which brings us back to NYC. Take a minute to read this story published by Edwize that critiques the behavior of the New York Post in the aftermath of the scores’ release:

On Sunday, the Post published another story, now proclaiming Mauclair to be the “city’s worst teacher.” Next to this description, it printed a photograph of her taken from a yearbook. The Post quoted a single parent to whom it had provided this description as saying that he wanted to have his child removed from her class. Another parent whose child was no longer in the school was quoted saying Mauclair should be fired and her salary given to the school.

Wait, didn’t Hanushek say that releasing these measures is a positive step towards improving the quality of teaching? Let’s check:

The release of value-added scores of teachers is not a way of shaming the ineffective teachers. It is a prod to insisting that teachers who harm their children should finally be removed from the classroom.

Oh! So these value-added scores aren’t supposed to shame ineffective teachers, but merely prod bad teachers out of the classroom? Is that what the New York Post is doing? Because, from where I stand, their actions seem like an attempt to shame teachers. Once again, non-educators view teaching as easy, and therefore feel that they have a right to speak loudly against what they see as flaws in the model.

Merit pay and VA scores are heralded as the way to incentivize teachers to improve their performance — more pay for better performance. Calculating these scores is controversial enough, but releasing them to a vitriolic political environment is dangerous and ineffective. There’s no incentive system built in for teachers when these scores are released — only disincentives. Bill Gates is right; releasing these scores is a form of public shaming, and it ought to be punished.

Have we not learned our lesson?

I’m currently sitting in my favorite DC coffee shop, surrounded by people who are clearly a little too entrenched in the DC way of life. Turns out I can easily tune out their conversation if I instead focus on this week’s education news. The interblag has been spreading the “what I really do” meme, and it recently made its way into education. I suspect this resonates with many teachers:

Source: This Week in Education

This essay written by Stuart Schmill, Dean of Admission at MIT, is a must-read for anyone interested in the college admission process. Key point: “Our actions speak the loudest. If we tell students that it’s O.K. to back off on their classes to make room for other activities, or simply to make room for balance and reflection, we must make decisions that align with those statements.” Admission work is half-recruiting and half-gatekeeping. Sometimes, offices lose sight of the need to align these two tasks with each other. Applying students bear the brunt of this failing.

Charter school critics remain vocal. This NYT editorial argues that charter schools are being approved at an increasing rate, while the number of charters that close each year after review is dropping. Their underlying assumption is that the accountability measures built into state laws are failing. The piece itself tells us little about whether this is true, though it does link to many oft-cited studies on the subject. John Thompson, writing on This Week in Education, calls for soul-searching regarding the role of discipline in charter schools. Lastly, Mike Goldstein of the MATCH Charter School in Boston responds to Noble Charter Network’s discipline policy where students must pay $5 when they are given a detention.

Dana Schwartz from the New America Foundation wrote a fascinating piece on how one South LA public school is designing a turn-around model that focuses on improving the local community. My take-away: the increasing number of charter schools in the area led to a declining enrollment at the unsafe and low-performing Crenshaw High School. That Crenshaw is now responding with major improvement strategies seems to be a point in favor of the charter school theory. Competition is actually incentivizing improvement.

The debate around value-added measures continues as New York City releases teacher’s VA estimates, and other states increasingly decide to implement such policies. Matt DiCarlo of The Shanker Blog examines whether these measures do or should rely on poverty measures. Eric Hanushek (you remember him, right?) argues that releasing VA measures focuses the conversation on “what really matters: classroom learning.” I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I much prefer Bill Gates’s take on the matter: releasing these measures is a form of public shaming that does little good.


I’ll end my Ed Bites there. Per the advice of a great professor, I try to stay agnostic about many of these reform efforts. How I feel about something means little compared to the effectiveness of the reform and its unintended consequences. Most of all, please please remember that wearing a bright pink tie and whinging about studying abroad in a third world country makes you look like a DC tool.

The Primary Colors of Friday Ed Bites

February 17th, 2012 | Posted by KC in friday ed bites - (0 Comments)

Ready to go? Ok, let’s go. Ok Go does primary colors!

There are so many “WTF” news items this week; let’s not delay the fun times.

1. A Virginia school district is considering banning cross-gender dressing. Back to skirts and dresses all the time for girls, then? So, maybe that’s a bit silly, but I am outraged by Vice Chairwoman Thelma Hinton’s rationale for supporting the ban: there was a 15-year-old student in California killed because of cross-dressing. So, we’re solving the problem by punishing the bullied, not the bullies? Give me strength.

2. On the flip side, a primary school in England put on a fundraiser with male strippers to raise money. Stars All the Way Jay and Tommy Love helped the school raise over £1,000. Oh so very different from their transatlantic relatives.

3. Did you hear about the girl whose home-made lunch was taken away from her and replaced with chicken nuggets because the school deemed her original lunch too unhealthy by USDA standards? Her lunch, by the way, was comprised of a turkey and cheese sandwich, potato chips, a banana, and apple juice. Bureaucracy fail.

4. I love MIT. It’s one of the most fascinating universities in the country. Every year, when students are admitted, their admission decision comes in a large tube. MIT has started a blog on their admission website where students can send in photos of their admission tube hack. Like I said, I love MIT. (Here and here are two of my favorites.)

5. Speaking of tubes, Obama shot off a marshmallow launcher in the State Dining Room as part of the White House Science Fair. The event attracted more than 100 students, and made for some pretty stellar photo opportunities.


But, let’s get down to real business now. A principal in Philadelphia was accused of encouraging teachers to cheat on standardized tests. I don’t know why I’m posting this; it’s not news. This happens in schools across the country every day. It is interesting, however, that Newark, NJ is breaking ground on a Teacher’s Village, with the hope of attracting Newark teachers to live closer to their schools. An interesting effort at building community, one that reminds me of Leonard Covello’s efforts to improve Benjamin Franklin High School.

Two pieces of news about Khan Academy: Craig Silverstein from Google (often referred to as Google’s first employee) is leaving Google to join Khan Academy. In case you don’t know, Khan Academy is a non-profit that “flips” the classroom so students watch video lessons at home and then work on assignments in class. The idea is that flipping the classroom  allows the teacher to help struggling students while they are in class. But, Khan Academy has plenty of critics. A few weeks ago, I posted Gary Rubenstein’s critique. This time, the critique comes from Mathalicious, an online professional development tool for math teachers.

Now, the big guns. Virginia’s State House recently passed House Bill 576, which effectively replaces teacher tenure with three-year contracts that aren’t automatically renewed. The bill is expected to go to the Senate for a vote next Tuesday. Governor Bob McDonnell’s statement can be found here. Teacher tenure is deeply rooted in our historical treatment of teachers. If you’re interested, I recommend scanning this 1920s teacher contract. There are great teachers, and there are mediocre teachers, but it’s questionable whether value-added measures can tell the difference. (Fun fact: the interviewed Delegate Kirk Cox was my high school AP Government teacher, and one of the best teachers I had in my K-12 career.)

I love it when Bruce Baker of School Finance 101 writes things that seamlessly match my thesis topic. This time, he discusses the pros and cons of school closure in two pieces: one on school closure more generally, and one as a response to specific reports on school closure in DC and Newark, NJ. And, it wouldn’t be a Friday Ed Bites without a post from the Shanker Blog — this time, Matt DiCarlo discusses why disclosing teachers’ value-added estimates in newspapers is a bad idea, and what newspapers must do to minimize the negative consequences.


OK, that’s a wrap. We’ve seen strippers, cross-dressers, and kids with unhealthy lunches. We witnessed the beginning of a huge transformation in teacher contract laws in Virginia, and we even dabbled in school closure. It’s the weekend, so fill your brain with goodness before you indulge in Saturday.

Hey Girl, Friday Ed Bites

February 3rd, 2012 | Posted by KC in friday ed bites - (0 Comments)

I’d like to start this week’s Ed Bites with a few things for teachers: a New Yorker cartoon that perhaps sounds a bit too familiar. And, the best thing ever, a Ryan Gosling tumblr that compliments teachers on their hard work.


Moving on, Philadelphia Public Schools have had a rough. . . last few decades. In the fall of 2011, Arlene Ackerman, former superintendent, was bought out of her multi-year just-renewed contract with a $900,000 severance package. Then, news hit that she was applying for unemployment. And now, the follow-up — she was denied! Sadly, that doesn’t fix the problem. Philadelphia public schools were told that they need to cut spending by $400,000 a day. EEK! Conversely, I appreciated this article on superintendents who are offering to change their position to part-time in an effort to save their districts money. Stands in stark contrast to Ackerman’s unemployment benefits request.

Did you hear about the Yale professor who shrunk his class and moved its location so that the students wouldn’t have access to wi-fi? Zing! Seriously though, I don’t understand how students can feel good about wasting time on the internet during class. In the words of Stephanie Tanner from Full House, HOW RUDE! There’s also the one about the college student who ordered a textbook from the internet only to find a bag of cocaine inside. (Fun fact: the book was called Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, Issues.) And lastly, did you hear the one about the Alabama state senator who believes that low teacher salaries are biblically mandated? I can’t even.

The interblag is still reeling over President Obama’s SOTU last Tuesday. Diane Ravitch wrote a piece that criticizes the paradoxical nature of Obama’s stated beliefs about education and the action he takes with Race to the Top and other initiatives.  Basically, RttT encourages more testing — it even encourages tying teachers’ pay to students’ performance on standardized tests — yet, he talks endlessly about his hatred of standardized tests. There is also this (long) piece on The Quick & the Ed which examines the history of campus-based aid programs. It’s worth the read, as it contextualizes Obama’s calls for reform.

Jay Matthews on the Class Struggle blog of the Washington Post put forward five of the biggest myths in college admission. In my own experience, when applying to a selective college, the first four “myths” are not just true, but also crucial to the admission decision — especially if you are financial aid student. I much prefer the five myths that Andrew Rotherham put forward on his Time blog. Getting rejected from somewhere means absolutely nothing about your quality as a student. This becomes even more true as the school in question becomes more selective.


That’s it for today. I could share cute pictures of my roommate’s cat and dog with you, but this is an education blog. Or, I could share anyway: