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The Limits of Teacher Evaluation

December 14, 2012 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a blog post about a “parent” who wrote an op ed piece for one of the NYC tabloids. The “parent” who appears to be a shill for StudentsFirst, complained about the disparate experiences his twin daughters were experiencing in a NYC public school kindergarten and was urging the legislators to pass a bill that would mandate an improved evaluation system in the belief that such a law would result in more even performance. I wrote a comment to this post:

In NH the public gets to vote on teacher’s contracts and discuss their merits (and demerits) at public hearings in advance of the vote. Invariably someone would decry the lack of merit pay…. and just as invariably one of the professors at a local college would rise and share an anecdote about his two daughters’ experiences at our local high school, describing one daughter’s favorite teacher who clearly deserved merit pay and the other teacher’s least favorite teacher who, based on the account he shared, should have been dismissed before earning a continuing contract. The punch line: it was the same individual. Outstanding teacher’s don’t connect with every student and bad teachers are beloved by others…. oh…. and in our district, where all the students score in at least the 90th percentile on the State standardized test, NONE of our teachers achieved a high VAM score.

In 29 years as a Superintendent and 6 as a building level administrator I can attest to the fact that one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor when it comes to assessing the quality of teachers… and the most sophisticated mathematical model in the world will not be able to objectively quantify teacher OR administrator quality.

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Singapore Softens

December 13, 2012 Comments off

An article in today’s NYTimes by Kristiano Ang describes the steps the Singaporean Minister of Education is taking to reform schools… by reducing stress. Singapore is a country that values education and competition, and their current system sounds like the one desired by our reformers. Schools are “graded” based on the performance of their students on examinations, the academic achievements of students are the subject of front page news stories and advertisements for products, and competition starts early.

Instead of grading schools based on examination scores, the Ministry of Education will strive to have “every school… be a good school in delivering a student-centric, values-driven education.” And some of the legislators even want to go further, introducing bills to

…to scrap the primary school graduation exam, which basically determines a student’s academic path through high school.

Not all parents are happy about this, particularly those who came through this system successfully and whose children are competing well against their classmates. Why is this change being advocated?

Heng Swee Keat, Singapore’s Harvard-educated education minister, addressed the issue on Facebook. “The change is not to address stress per se or to move away from merit,” he wrote. “It is not possible, nor desirable, to eliminate stress completely. Nor should we be shy about achievements.”

Singapore and Finland typically score near the top on international examinations. Singapore’s high scores demonstrate that an examination centered and highly disciplined education system can excel on standardized achievement tests. Finland’s equally high scores indicate that less schooling and more individualization can accomplish the same results.

We should look at where Singapore is headed and embrace that direction: we should strive to have “every school… be a good school in delivering a student-centric, values-driven education.”  That’s what Finland is doing… and it seems to be working.

 

 

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Talent and Opportunity

December 13, 2012 Comments off

Nick Kristof’s column in today’s NYTimes, “It’s a Smart, Smart, Smart World” describes the “Flynn Effect”, which asserts that the world’s population is getting more intelligent based on their IQ test results. My first thought when I read this was that the IQ test is not necessarily the best metric for measuring intelligence, a caveat that Kristof introduces later in the essay:

While I.Q. measures something to do with mental acuity, it’s a rubbery and imperfect metric. It’s heavily shaped by environment — potential is diminished when children suffer from parasites or lead in air pollution.

This link to the environment in and of itself would raise the average by increasing the IQs in nations where clean water and basic health care has been introduced over the past decades. But Flynn sees something else at work:

Flynn argues that I.Q. is rising because in industrialized societies we give our brains a constant mental workout that builds up what we might call our brain sinews….

…Flynn argues that modern TV shows and other entertainment can be cognitively demanding, and video games like those of the Grand Theft Auto series probably require more thought than solitaire.

In order to continue this trend, desperately poor and undeveloped countries not only need to prevent “parasites” and regulations that eliminate environmental hazards like leaded gasoline, they need secular education programs that expand the thinking of children. And what of OUR country? Kristof recommends that we stop cutting school funding when

“…about 7,000 high school students drop out every day, and there are long waits to get into early-childhood-enrichment programs like Head Start. Literacy programs can help break cycles of poverty and unleash America’s potential — and a single F-35 fightercould pay for more than four years of the Reading Is Fundamental program in the entire United States.

Kristof concludes with this paragraph:

As we make hard budget choices, let’s remember that the essential fact of the world is that talent is universal and opportunity is not. I hope we’re finally smart enough to try to remedy that.

Amen!