In addition to reading daily blogs by Diane Ravitch, Yves Smith, the ASCD, the NYTimes, CNN, and the Boston Globe, I am an avid fan of Greg Easterbrook, the Tuesday Morning Quarterback who writes a weekly column for ESPN and periodically writes for Atlantic and other magazines and media outlet. Both Easterbrook and Joe Nocera, a NYTimes columnist write frequently about the hypocrisy of the NCAA, the institution that oversees college athletics and presumably ensures that the athletes playing on college teams are bona fide students. For better or worse, today’s NYTimes reports that a for-profit college, Grand Canyon University, is being elevated to a Division 1 status and playing in the Western Athletic Conference indicates that the NCAA isn’t completely hypocritical: it’s in effect acknowledging that graduation rates don’t really matter when it comes to judging an institution any more than those rates matter when it comes to determining whether a university is operating a sound athletic program.
The entry of a for-profit college into major college sports raised questions in the mind of at least one education consultant:
For-profit institutions have been criticized for spending more money on recruiting students and marketing their schools — particularly to draw online students — than actually educating them. A recent study found that more than half of the students who enroll in for-profit institutions leave without a degree, that those students are often left with hefty loans and that taxpayers, in a recent year, spent $32 billion on companies that operate such schools.
“I find it alarming that an institution with questionable academic practices is sort of ingratiating itself into the mainstream of American athletics,” said Barmak Nassirian, an independent consultant on higher education policy, adding, “That traditional, bona fide institutions find it not at all problematic, to be members of the same club, I think is a fair question to ask.”
Easterbrook knows why the question isn’t being asked. This past week he led his column praising Notre Dame for being ranked #1 in football— based on it’s graduation rates for football players as well as its #1 ranking in the nation. At the same time he chided the NCAA and the national media for overlooking this accomplishment. In Easterbook’s ideal world, if athletic prowess isn’t matched with high graduation rates the school should not be qualified to win any championships. But the NCAA doesn’t place any emphasis on academic prowess and the national media don’t bring academics to the forefront in their reporting to college sports fans.
Interestingly, Arizona would be one of the last places to question academic practices: their flagship college, Arizona University, had only 46% of their football team graduate, among the worst in the country. I doubt that they will be leading the charge to keep their neighboring for-profit on-line institution out of Division 1 based on academic deficiencies.
The most recent ASCD online Journal is devoted to teacher evaluation and it features some articles on Value Added Measures, including one by McCREL consultants Bryan Goodwin and Kirsten Miller titled “Use Caution with Value Added Measures”. The article does a good job of delineating everything that is wrong with Value Added Measures, but— despite the fact they offer no antidote for any of the flaws— implicitly conclude that value added measures are here to stay, can be improved, and are better than what we have in place now.
They lead their list of VAM’s problems with this paragraph:
In many ways, the value-added teacher measurement model is still in its infancy, having emerged only in recent years as sophisticated data warehouses made it possible to measure the average growth of an entire class of students over the course of a school year. However, researchers have warned that what seems so simple and straightforward in theory is incredibly complicated in practice. Here are a few of the pitfalls.
What the paragraph fails to mention is that nearly all education researchers think that VAM is junk science– though they might state that assertion in more erudite terms. It also misrepresents VAM’s capabilities: VAM cannot be used to “to measure the average growth of an entire class of students over the course of a school year” for reasons that are described in the list of pitfalls. One of the pitfalls is particularly comprehensive:
Data may be inaccurate. (After newspaper reports undercut the teacher ratings) multiple factual errors surfaced in New York’s data. For example, one teacher had data for a year when she was on maternity leave; another teacher taught 4th grade for five years but had no data (Clawson, 2012). Moreover, small samples—for example, classes with only 10 students—can paint inaccurate pictures of teachers because they are subject to statistical fluctuations (Goe, Bell, & Little, 2008).
Despite the fact that “data may be inaccurate”, the federal government is championing the use of this approach and the teachers whose ratings were published using this inaccurate data have no way of clearing their names after they’ve been published— as has occurred in NYC and LA. The computer aphorism “garbage in, garbage out” comes to mind!
The last section of the article poses the question “Still Better Than the Alternatives?” and appears to answer in the affirmative.
In general, the year-to-year correlation between value-added scores lies in the .30 to .40 range (Goldhaber & Hansen, 2010). Although this correlation is not large, researchers at the Brookings Institution note that it is almost identical to the correlation between SAT scores and college grade point average (.35); yet we continue to use SAT scores in making decisions about college admissions “because even though the prediction of success from SAT/ACT scores is modest, it is among the strongest available predictors” (Glazerman et al., 2010, p. 7).
So at the same time that elite colleges and universities are questioning the efficacy of SATs as a predictive metric, schools are being asked to embrace it because while it is a weak predictor of success it is– what?— a predictor that is numeric? That seems to be the argument based on the logic presented in a subsequent paragraph:
…in general, principals appear to be fairly accurate in identifying top and bottom performers, but they struggle to differentiate among teachers in the middle
And what is the purpose of differentiating “among teachers in the middle?” A workmanlike teacher is as important to the operation of the school as a workmanlike employee is in any organization and assigning a numeric value to the ratings makes them appear more scientific and exacting than they are in reality.
The irony of this VAM article that implicitly advocates the use of evaluation to sort and rank order teachers is that it appears in the same newsletter with articles that describe the benefits using evaluations to identify meaningful staff development that will result in the improvement of the performance of ALL teachers. VAM isn’t designed for any purpose except naming and shaming. It should be abandoned.
“Motherlode” a section of the NYTimes devoted to “…the personal, cultural and political aspects of family life” has an article in today’s newspaper that describes the vicious cycle created when welfare, childcare, education, and entry-level employment are placed in impermeable silos. The title of the article is “How Children Subsidize “Low, Low Prices”” and the answer is through low, low compensation for entry level jobs, especially the welfare-to-work jobs:
… the types of jobs available to most lower-income parents, mothers and fathers alike, are low-wage jobs that present their own problems to those trying to support and raise a family. The lack of benefits, the inflexible hours and the often nonstandard shifts exacerbate the low pay and create a situation in which parents don’t have the time they want and need to spend with their children or the money to find high-quality substitutes (like activities and child care) for that time.
So parents who work in low wage jobs— especially single parents— have no way of overseeing the care for their own children creating a situation that replicates itself in future generations:
Adolescents from households headed by a low-income worker are more likely to drop out of school, to be obese and to take on adult roles too young. In providing child care for siblings and forgoing opportunities that require an engaged parent helping with homework or encouraging outside activities, teenage children in low-wage families are, (Boston University sociologists) Drs. Dodson and Albelda argue, “effectively subsidizing” their parents’ employment as home health aides, janitors, food-service providers and retail clerks….
And children thrust into their own care-giving roles are children who aren’t easily able to develop the skills they need to do better than a low-wage job for themselves as adults. The low-wage job cycle becomes a vicious one.
This cannot be fixed by lower taxes and privatization of public services. The only fix, in my judgment, is to achieve some kind of shared vision of how we want our country to look 25 years from now and begin getting government agencies working together to achieve that shared vision. The current two party set up precludes any possibility of developing a “shared vision” because both parties seem beholden to the ethos of shareholder primacy— and there are fewer and fewer BIG shareholders and those shareholders want more and more influence over how the government works. Here are the comments I offered at the conclusion of the article:
This is the legacy of the “Reagan revolution”, the adoption of shareholder primacy, and our insatiable desire for cheap stuff… but not to worry, privatized schools will fix it all!
Reagan convinced the public that government was the problem and that welfare was all going to moochers who rode around in Cadillacs and had no desire to work… Ever since then we’ve seen the social compact compromised.
At around the same time corporations decided it was more important to give shareholders big dividends than to provide employees with good wages and benefits… and big shareholders decided quarterly earnings were more important than long term growth and stability… the result was cutting cost by outsourcing of work, reducing benefits and eliminating defined benefit retirements.
And throughout the ages (or at least my 65 years on earth) American’s want cheap stuff and lots of it… and that desire for cheap stuff means we bought into the “no new taxes” mantra and acquiesced when corporations cut costs because it meant lower prices.
As a recently retired public educator I can’t help but notice that schools are the ones held responsible for all of this and we’re now supposed to fix it… all by ourselves… without any more government funding. Fortunately (wink, wink) the private sector is going to rescue public education by introducing low paying jobs and online courses.