I attended an education reform conference last week as part of a panel on the “new media landscape” before a group of advocates and funders. I had the chance to sit in on a few other sessions, and some of what I heard got me thinking about the phenomenon of so-called “teacher-bashing.”
Like many phrases tossed about in the current education debate, “teacher-bashing” is overused to the point of abuse. Up to now, I’ve tended to side with education advocates who scorn the phrase because it’s trotted out by teachers’ union spokespeople and their allies whenever someone criticizes a contract provision, or tenure, or speaks in favor of using standardized test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation.
But the more I listen to the way some “reform” advocates talk about teachers, the more I hear an underlying disdain that helps me understand why some educators are quick to trot out the “teacher-bashing” canard.
Here’s the crux of the problem as I see it. People who denigrate some teachers for not being good enough to meet society’s current educational demands are aiming their disdain at the wrong target.
The blog post below this one synthesizes a recent article that is classic Rick Hess; questioning the conventional wisdom and making a compelling argument for something many of us would rather not confront. It’s a brilliant piece, sure to spark a lot of debate.
But I’ve found a puzzling inconsistency in his argument, which I hope he will address here or elsewhere. In his article, in which he questions the wisdom of focusing our educational priorities on narrowing achievement gaps (which, he argues, are being narrowed by pushing the top down as much as lifting the bottom up) Hess makes a pitch for school integration and tweaks ”reformers” for dismissing it:
…in a terrible irony, achievement-gap mania has indirectly made it more difficult for reformers to promote integrated schools. Philanthropic foundations that support education causes are interested in serving as many poor and minority children as possible; when 30% to 40% of a student body is made up of white or affluent students, the school is deemed suspect, as reform-minded foundations see such programs as “wasting” a third of their seats. Bragging rights go to charter schools or programs that have the highest-octane mix of poor and minority kids. The upshot is that it is terribly difficult to generate interest in nurturing racially or socioeconomically integrated schools, even though just about every observer thinks that more such schools would be good for kids, communities, and the country.
Editor’s note: This piece was submitted by Damian W. Betebenner, Richard J. Wenning and Professor Derek C. Briggs. Thumbnail biographies of the three authors appear at the bottom of this article.
Bruce D. Baker recently published a critique of The Colorado Growth Model and its use of Student Growth Percentiles in his School Finance 101 blog (cross-posted on Education News Colorado). In his blog, he both mischaracterizes the SGP methodology and the policy context. Having participated in creating the Colorado Growth Model and leading the policy development associated with it, we thought it would be useful to clarify these misconceptions.
In work over the past decade with over two dozen State Education Agencies (SEAs) to develop models of student growth based upon state assessment results, one lesson that is repeatedly learned is that data, regardless of their quality, can be used well and can be used poorly. Unfortunately Professor Baker conflates the data (i.e. the measure) with the use. A primary purpose in the development of the Colorado Growth Model (Student Growth Percentiles/SGPs) was to distinguish the measure from the use: To separate the description of student progress (the SGP) from the attribution of responsibility for that progress.
There is a continuum of opinion about how large-scale assessment data and derived quantities can be used in accountability systems. On one extreme are those who believe large-scale assessment results are the ONLY “objective” indicator and thus any judgment about educator/education quality should be based on such measures. At the other extreme are those that hold that any use of large-scale assessment data is an abuse.
People seeking a dose of iconoclastic thinking and blunt talk about education reform might want to seek out Rick Hess. A resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute think tank, Hess has made a career of questioning the most cherished assumptions of everyone associated with public education. It [...]
Editor’s note: The following piece was written by Ken DeLay, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Boards.
Students do not show up at the schoolhouse door equally well equipped for success. We know, for example, that young children who grow up in homes where adults regularly read and speak to them by age three have heard 30 million more words and have a vocabulary more than twice as large as children who grow up without those experiences.
There are also differences in intellect and a host of other factors that affect student learning. Colorado’s public schools have been rightly challenged to accept every one of these children, no matter how well equipped to learn, and to launch them into adulthood 12 years later fully prepared for college or career.
Leaving aside the legal analysis and the political jousting, the plaintiffs in the just-concluded Lobato trial are seeking only recognition of the fact that it costs more to educate the child with a vocabulary less than half that of his peers and a life experience of hearing more than 30 million fewer spoken words, and an order requiring the state to create a plan for funding those costs. The plaintiffs’ claims are rooted in an old idea. We get what we pay for.
Editor’s note: This piece is cross-posted from Bruce D. Baker’s School Finance 101 blog. Baker is a professor at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. He recently testified for the plaintiffs in the Lobato Colorado school funding trial.
In the face of all of the public criticism over the imprecision of value-added estimates of teacher effectiveness, and debates over whether newspapers or school districts should publish VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness, policymakers in several states have come up with a clever shell game. Their argument?
We don’t use VAM… ‘cuz we know it has lots of problems, we use Student Growth Percentiles instead. They don’t have those problems.
WRONG! WRONG! WRONG! Put really simply, as a tool for inferring which teacher is “better” than another, or which school outperforms another, SGP is worse, not better than VAM. This is largely because SGP is simply not designed for this purpose. And those who are now suggesting that it is are simply wrong. Further, those who actually support using tools like VAM to infer differences in teacher quality or school quality should be most nervous about the newly found popularity of SGP as an evaluation tool.
Today, we are introducing some enhancements to the Education News Colorado website.
As time goes by, we learn more about gaps in information that a site like ours can fill. We also study data from Google Analytics and elsewhere to see which of our offerings are most popular with readers. We’re committed to being responsive to what our readers want and need.
Here is a list of what’s new on the site, all of it easily found through our new, secondary menu bar, which sits under the main menu bar, just below the EdNews logo:
- Easy access to databases. Our searchable databases of information on subjects including test scores, remediation rates, state ratings and drug offenses by schools are now grouped conveniently under a new heading on the secondary menu bar. Click on the EdNews’ databases item under the Data Center heading to find the list of databases.
- In-depth issues. Another new secondary menu bar item highlights a current education issue to which we’ve dedicated extensive coverage. This item debuts with a link to all EdNews stories on the Lobato funding adequacy trial.
- Timely topics. Here is the place to go if you want to sound like an education wonk. Read our CliffsNotes-like summaries and descriptions of complex education topics and you’ll be able to spout off on issues like those on the site today — state testing, school funding and vouchers. Over time we will add additional topics pages. Do you have a topic in mind you’d like to see summarized in an accurate, objective fashion? Drop us a line.
- Easier access to education law and bill tracker features. The secondary menu bar now provides easy, one-click access to this popular and useful feature. The tracker allows you to read new education law and, during the legislative session, bills that are working their way through the system.
The following article was submitted to EdNews by Denver school board member Andrea Mérida. It is also posted on her blog
While the politics of education reform swirl all around us, it’s important to keep clear on what works and what doesn’t. The good news is that the Denver Public Schools is actually doing very well in supporting a particular segment of our student population, English learners.
The confusing part is that we seem ready to ignore that fact and follow a path that is completely divergent from real, lasting reform. The right path to close the achievement gap and provide opportunity for all Denver’s students is clear, and we would do well to heed the evidence.
In 1999, the Department of Justice won a decision on behalf of the Congress of Hispanic Educators which asserted that the Denver Public Schools lacked adequate programs for students of limited English proficiency. DPS was ordered to allow parents to choose either full Spanish-language instruction, sheltered instruction (English with instructions in Spanish) or complete English immersion for their children (Click here to read those court documents).
Around 35 percent of DPS students are classified as English language learners (ELLs). Not all these students come from Spanish-speaking homes; they also speak Vietnamese, Arabic, Somali, Nepali, and Karen/Burmese. Spanish-speaking students represent around 57 percent of DPS’ ELL population.
The CSAPs taken in March 2011 show that “exited” ELLs, or those students who now are proficient enough to be placed in English-only classrooms, outperform district averages. Keeping in mind that these standardized tests are only an indicator of performance, these students also have surpassed Asian/Pacific Islander and Anglo students in many categories. These exited ELLs now take the CSAP in English.
The following graphs show the percentages of elementary-aged ELLs scoring at or above proficiency in subjects tested by CSAP. ELLs outperform their Anglo counterparts in reading, writing and math and are very competitive with Asian students in science.
The following was submitted by Mike Wetzel, public relations director for the Colorado Education Association.
The Colorado Education Association has no problems and much praise for the title of Tim Farmer’s editorial, “Professional associations are the future of teaching.” Nearly 40,000 education professionals have voluntarily chosen to join CEA because they believe membership in this organization advances the teaching profession in Colorado. That phrase would’ve made a great CEA bumper sticker, had we thought of it first.
After the title, though, Mr. Farmer launches into a false argument that an organization with a union component – one that advances the teaching profession by advocating for fair salaries, decent working conditions and legal protections – cannot also have a robust, even larger, professional component.
Our recent work on the state council to define educator effectiveness for a new statewide evaluation system, in accordance with Senate Bill 191, is a great example of CEA’s professional achievements. CEA had three members on the State Council for Educator Effectiveness who pushed for statewide accountability measures.
Having stayed out of the fray for several months working on the business end of EdNews, I’ve gained some distance and perspective on the flashpoints that have been dominating the education reform debate. From a freshly detached point of view, a few things seem clear to me. In no particular order:
*** Granted, it makes no sense to evaluate educators solely on how students perform on standardized tests, imperfect instruments at best. It makes even less sense, though, to escalate this to a generalized anti-testing frenzy, as some have done. Measuring progress and achievement is essential to improvement. So by all means, find some others measures to augment testing, and throttle way back on the test-prep and test-score obsession. But keep testing.
*** Both “sides” in the reform debate like to use Finland as an example of a country that has solved the public education puzzle. On one side, advocates point out that Finnish teachers are unionized, effective and well prepared. They are a respected and admired pillar of Finnish society. Advocates on the other side point out that the teachers in Finland have had to clear some high bars to get into the profession. It takes more than a pulse and an inflated grade point average to get a Finnish teaching license. Until we can figure out how to make teaching a true profession in this country, and attract a larger number of highest caliber applicants, our education system will not match Finland’s results. What can we do to make teachers feel efficacious? How do we make teaching a career as appealing as engineering, law or medicine? And then what do we do about current teachers who wouldn’t be able to clear the Finnish bar?