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Archive for March, 2012

Duncan Wants it Both Ways on Merit Pay

March 29, 2012 Leave a comment

A recent article in Education Week indicates that Arne Duncan NOW believes that it is a mistake to publish teacher’s “value added” rankings in the newspaper but still adheres to the belief that schools should inform parents when a teacher’s “value added” test results are poor over an extended period of time. The article’s penultimate paragraph suggests that Duncan’s critics will accuse him of “trying to have it both ways”… which ISN’T a criticism, it’s an accurate description of what is going on!

One of the conundrums of merit pay is that it categorizes “excellent” teachers from “un-excellent” teachers in the same way that “gifted and talented” programs identify “un-gifted and talented” students. Nothing can be more dispiriting to a child (or a child’s parents) than being classified as “un-gifted”… but there is a public identification associated with the classification of students whether administrators like it or not. Similarly, identifying and rewarding “excellent” teachers will result in a public disclosure of the list no matter how hard administrators try to contend the information is confidential… and if student test results can purportedly be used to rank teachers and districts DON’T publish the results or calculate them, enterprising parent organizations or media outlets WILL do it.

The real problem with all this is that “value added” analyses are completely unproven as a basis for evaluating teachers except on the grossest level. When student test results are interpreted in a granular fashion, they assume an exactness that does exists mathematically but not practically.  Until the USDOE abandons it’s illusion that value-added analysis is worthwhile we will continue to publicly humiliate teachers over nothing.

The Limits of Privatization in Public Education

March 28, 2012 Leave a comment

The Naked Capitalist posted an articleby George Irwin from the Guardian titled “When Privatisation Doesn’t Work”. Much of the article is devoted to an overview of economic theory as it applies to the provision of public services, and in addition to making a case that medical services should be thought of as a public good, Irwin has one sections that directly discusses education:

…. Universal literacy may be instrumental to developing a skilled workforce – a notion much loved by Tories – but the real reason we value education is because it is a necessary (though insufficient) component of a well-functioning democratic society. Education is not a commodity to be purchased according to individual preference; it’s central to the meaning of civilised society.

The article concludes with a clear explanation of what “efficiency” means to many businesspeople:

The notion that competition always makes the private sector more efficient than the public sector is… quite unjustified… What politicians typically mean when they speak of greater efficiency is lower costs, typically achieved by employing cheap, non-unionised labour. This is the real reason so many public services are outsourced.

In short, arguments favouring private over public provision are not just theoretically flawed, but typically favour the few at the expense of the many. The pendulum has swung too far to the right: it’s time to stand up for public provision.

Irwin is writing from Britain where the pendulum has swung even further to the right than here… but one can easily envision the following sequence of events occurring in our country: “failing” unionized public schools are replaced by lower cost “turnaround” charter schools that are NOT unionized (and therefore less costly) that achieve modestly higher test scores… and of course TEST scores are the ultimate metric for defining “success”… Of course the affluent suburban schools don’t have to worry about this happening in their communities because THEIR test scores are safely above the “failure” level…

Competencies vs. the Factory School

March 28, 2012 Leave a comment

A recent Education Week article describes the problems a competency-based school systems faces when it tries to work within the Factory School structure that measures “progress” based on age-based cohorts. The curriculum needs to be completely re-written because test-books are designed to match the age-based cohorts system in place, a system reinforced by the accountability system imposed by the federal government.  Educators know that students learn at different rates and in different ways and technology provides us with the opportunity to develop individualized learning plans based on that reality. Unfortunately our metrics are designed to reinforce a model put in place at the beginning of the 20th Century. Here’s hoping CO will be open minded enough to allow Adams 50 to continue to pursuing this approach.

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