Posts Tagged ‘Measurement’

NYTimes Op Ed Spreads the Word

August 17, 2014 Leave a comment

David Kirp’s op ed essay, “Teaching is Not a Business“, echoes many posts on this blog. In addition to the pithy aphorism that serves as the title, Kirp’s essay touches on a host of topics that I’ve blogged on in detail, including:

  • the need for teachers to be champions for their students
  • the failed idea of using standardized tests as the ultimate measure of education, teacher performance, and school performance
  • the demonstrable failure of the “turnaround” idea
  • the shortcomings and pitfalls of merit pay plans
  • the lack of evidence that charter schools are any better than public schools
  • the reality that organizational change is superior to the quick fix inherent in “disruption” and the application of traditional business practices
  • the reality that organizational change takes time
  • the inherent messiness of any enterprise that provides human services
  • the failed promise of technology

A look back at blog posts will show that the number of Times articles championing market-based solutions to education, the use of business practices in public education, charters, vouchers, disruptive technology, and “turnaround schools” FAR outnumber the articles like Kirp’s that are based on practical, realistic solutions. I’m glad the Times is giving its readers “the rest of the story”…. but expect to see several counter arguments in letters to the editor characterizing Kirp as a defender of the status quo, a union apologist, and an academic promoting failed ideas. I hope I’m wrong.


CCSS: A Victory for Reagan, Friedman, and Nordquist

August 16, 2014 Leave a comment

In a blog post yesterday, Diane Ravitch described Bill Gates’ latest efforts to ensure that the Common Core becomes the de facto national curriculum. The Gates and Helmsley Foundation have underwritten a new non-profit with “… plans to review textbooks and other instructional material for fidelity to the Common Core.”  So Gates has underwritten the writing of the Common Core, the implementation of the Common Core, the evaluation of the Common Core, and is now underwriting the effort to bake the Common Core into textbooks for years to come.

Thank Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and Grover Nordquist for this development. The “problematic” government (e.g. the State Departments of Education) got small enough to drown in a bathtub and the “free market” is now “coming to the rescue”. RIP State and local control of the curriculum and hello to the curriculum driven by the oligopoly of standardized test makers.

I am concerned that in their ad hominem attack on Bill Gates many progressive educators are missing the bigger picture…. and some of the problems Gates and his fellow philanthropists are solving are ones created by the complaints of teachers and administrators.

The biggest problem, as described repeatedly in this blog, is that Ronald Reagan and his progeny have persuaded the people that government is the problem… and among the people who bought into this idea were teachers, school board members, and administrators who bemoaned the mandates of the bureaucrats at the State Department of Education. Many educators were happy to see cuts to the State Departments of Education instead of cuts to their districts and many school boards preferred hiring their own curriculum coordinators instead of relying on those “bureaucrats” at the state level.

Nordquist and his acolytes, who wanted extreme limitations placed on spending helped brand public education as “government run” schools and that, in turn, led to cuts at all levels of public education.

In the meantime, Milton Friedman’s concepts about the magic of the marketplace began to take root to the point where his once radical idea of vouchers became seriously considered by both political parties.

All of this created a void that Bill Gates and the tech community were only too happy to fill. Basically, Bill Gates is doing what “the business community” has desired for years: he is standardizing the high school degree so that it has a common definition across the country…. and in developing a national standard he is opening the door for “edu-preneurs” in the technology field to make a profit in education by eliminating the traditional role of teachers. Instead of teachers developing creativity and independent thinking in their students they are being rewarded for developing students who can take tests well. The ability to score well on “objective” tests, in turn, can serve as the “gold standard” for “objectively” measuring school and teacher performance.

In short, decrying Bill Gates misses the point. ALL of Gates’ work on the common core is the result of economic inequality. Because he and his hedge fund friends are able to accumulate wealth that was formerly distributed among school districts and State Departments of Education, ONLY he and his hedge fund friends can provide the services that were formerly provided by “the government”…. and he and his hedge friend funds want to see things standardized across the board. Their motives may or may not be pure, but at this juncture no state government is challenging the federal government’s de facto dictate to adopt the CCSS.


College Rankings: Why?

August 1, 2014 3 comments

I have held college rankings in disdain for years. They are reductionist to an extreme, measuring the easy-to-measure elements that differentiate one college from another and, because the metrics are mathematical, yielding a seemingly exact numeric differentials among colleges and universities that are, upon close inspection, inconsequential. For example, the differences between the top ranked and second ranked college in one category (say, engineering schools) may not be the same as in another category (say art schools) and the numeric difference between the third and fourth ranked college may be do different than the difference between the fourth and sixteenth ranked college within a category.

Despite my misgivings about rankings, it is evident from the sales of US News And World Report experienced when it published it’s annual ratings that most Americans love them… and based on the way colleges respond to the rankings it is evident they are valued by prospective students and their parents. I do believe, however, that the US News And World Report rankings are seldom deal-breakers or deal-makers when it comes to students making their final decision. It may save a cross country trip to visit a campus, but I doubt that a student with acceptances to two or three schools refers to them to make his or her final decision… but it DOES sell magazines and it DOES generate lots of faculty room and coffee-clatch conversation and, if a college is highly rated, generates lots of calls and mailings to alumni.

Given my misgivings I was dismayed when I read that President Obama is advocating a rating system for colleges that incorporates some kind of cost/benefit analysis… and… in response to this emerging trend from the US government and the profits realized by U S News and World Report more and more media outlets are jumping on the rating bandwagon, including Money Magazine. Kevin Carey reported on this development an article that appeared in Tuesday’s NYTimes Upshot section… and the title of the article tells you all you need to know about the rating system: “Building a Better College Rating System. Wait! Babson Beat Harvard!” With an undergraduate degree from Drexel University and two graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania I can testify to the fact that there is NOT that much difference in rigor between a “middle tier” university and an “elite” Ivy League school… and I can also testify to the fact that what separates the two institutions defies a simplistic mathematical metric like “earnings after 10 years” no matter how sophisticated the weighting of various exogenous factors…

Measuring quality is a difficult proposition and, in my judgment, not worthwhile. But it is relatively easy to identify and regulate institutions that mislead prospective entrants, fail to support enrolled students, employ unqualified and/or underpaid staff that turn over frequently, and have abysmal graduation rates. The time and money spent developing arcane statistical calculations to create gradations between good and excellent schools would be better spent aggressively monitoring those institutions that are profiteering at the expense of gullible students.