Monday, February 27, 2012

Failed Tests

Univ of Chicago Economist Derek Neal: measuring teacher performance based on student scores is like household cleaner that’s also a dessert topping;

Neal, a professor in economics and the Committee on Education, insists it’s a “logical impossibility” that standardized tests, as they’re most often administered, could assess both teachers and students without compromising teacher integrity, student learning, or both.

Failed tests

By Jason Kelly | 
Linking teacher merit pay to standardized-test scores compromises learning and creates incentives to cheat.
The concept of measuring teacher performance based on student standardized-test scores reminds Derek Neal of the 1970s Saturday Night Live commercial parody about the household cleaner that’s also a dessert topping. “I call this Shimmer floor wax and education policy,” he says, summing up what he considers the ridiculous linking of those two metrics, a practice that has become increasingly common in the era of No Child Left Behind.
In October the Wall Street Journal reported that 23 states and the District of Columbia use test scores, at least in part, to evaluate teachers. Eleven states use those results to determine tenure. The trend represents a shift away from decades of teacher compensation and job security based on seniority or education level with minimal attention to student performance. The $4.35 billion federal Race to the Top program instituted in 2009 accelerated the shift, granting funds based on result-oriented teacher evaluations, often focused on test scores.
Neal, a professor in economics and the Committee on Education, insists it’s a “logical impossibility” that standardized tests, as they’re most often administered, could assess both teachers and students without compromising teacher integrity, student learning, or both. “The idea is that we want faculty held accountable for what students learn, so the tool that we use to measure what students learn is the tool that we should use to hold faculty accountable,” Neal says. “It’s all rhetorically very pleasing, but it has nothing to do with the economics of how you design incentive systems.”
For standardized tests to show a correlation between student scores and teacher performance, they must be comparable from year to year and, therefore, predictable. “Any test that is very predictable will fail the requirement of being well designed for use in an incentives system,” Neal says, “because if it’s predictable, there will necessarily be a hidden action—which is, find a way to get a copy of the test and have [students] memorize the answers.”
Other types of what he calls “funny business” point to the disproportionate importance placed on testing. A 2005 study reported that Virginia educators increased the sugar content of school meals served on exam days because low glucose levels have been associated with poor scores. Some teachers have gone to the extreme of committing fraud. Steven Levitt, the William B. Ogden distinguished service professor of economics, and Brian A. Jacob, PhD’01, uncovered evidence that from 1993 to 2000 some Chicago Public Schools teachers changed student answers on standardized tests before submitting them.
Neal’s research suggests that, whether teachers use honest or nefarious methods, using the same test to measure professional competence and student achievement fails both objectives. In a 2011 National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, “The Design of Performance Pay in Education,” he finds that even when test scores improve—as they often do when teachers have a stake in the results—the growth tends to reflect mastery of test-taking techniques as opposed to the subject matter itself. Neal’s paper reviews studies from Kenya, Israel, Portugal, England, and throughout the United States. In that worldwide data, he says, “I see very weak evidence that the movement toward assessment-based accountability has increased real skill levels rather than test-taking skill levels.”
When they’re evaluated on student scores, teachers are motivated to focus on tactics specific to a test. Neal cites a 2002 Journal of Human Resources paper by Harvard professor Dan Koretz describing a Kentucky school district’s standardized-test results. Third graders performed at a fourth-grade math level—until the district switched testing companies. “They ordered a test that was supposed to cover the exact same curriculum, but they ordered it from a different company,” Neal said in a 2010 lecture. With a rueful laugh, he added, “Lo and behold, they weren’t as special anymore.”
Over time results on the new test rebounded to the levels achieved on the previous one, but when Koretz gave the first company’s exam to a subset of students who had prepared for the second version, the results dropped again. “The results don’t always turn out this starkly,” Neal says, “but it’s clear there’s a lot of evidence out there that when you put in these high-stakes programs, you get gains that are specific to a type of assessment.”
Despite the nodding heads he sees during presentations to policy audiences, Neal senses little momentum for the wholesale change he considers necessary. He advocates designing tests that do not repeat questions or formats from year to year and limiting multiple-choice problems to avoid spending class time on tactics such as when to guess or ignore questions.
Neal also argues that teachers should not be evaluated as a monolithic whole as if, for example, all the fifth-grade math teachers do the same job. “I think there are a lot of people in the policy community that want to say that’s exactly the case,” he says, “and I think that’s stupid.” Because suburban and inner-city schools—or honors and remedial classes—have students with different backgrounds and skill levels, Neal says that teachers should be judged according to “appropriately defined comparison sets.” Within those comparison sets, salary bonuses can be more fairly distributed. He proposes a “pay for percentile” plan outlined in a 2011 paper written with Gadi Barlevy of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Software that Neal developed and offers for free allows students to be classified according to academic history and demographic factors. How well those students fare within their groups then determines a teacher’s relative performance and merit pay.
To Neal’s frustration, changes of that magnitude seldom enter the public debate. Instead discussion tends to focus on nips and tucks to No Child Left Behind and fine-tuning test design rather than reforming the process to remove the inherent temptations on teachers. “I’m arguing, no,” Neal says, “you’ve got to junk it and start over.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Winerip Slams Duncan for Rhee Connection Amidst Cheating Investigation

I don't need no stinkin' investigation to know people cheated in Rheeland. But the ed deform establishment has too much to lose if Rhee takes a fall.

Amid a Federal Education Inquiry, an Unsettling Sight

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press; Alex Wong, via Getty Images
A spokesman for Education Secretary Arne Duncan, left, cautioned against the presumption of guilt in an investigation of Washington schools under the direction of Michelle Rhee.
Published: February 26, 2012
Mr. Duncan is the education secretary.
Ms. Rhee was the chancellor of schools in Washington from 2007 to 2010.
Since last summer, the Office of the Inspector General in Mr. Duncan’s department has been investigating whether Washington school officials cheated to raise test scores during Ms. Rhee’s tenure.
You would think Mr. Duncan would want to keep Ms. Rhee at arm’s length during the investigation. And yet there they were, sitting side by side last month, two of four featured panelists at a conference in Washington about the use of education data.
“This is an amazing panel, so I’m thrilled to be part of it,” Mr. Duncan said in his opening comment.
If there is any hope of getting to the bottom of what went on in the Washington schools — whether Ms. Rhee is as amazing as Mr. Duncan said, or whether test scores were inflated by cheating — it is through the inquiry by the inspector general. (Catherine Grant, a spokeswoman for the office, confirmed that an investigation was under way, but would not give details.)
Ms. Rhee’s reputation as a national leader of the education reform movement has rested on those test scores, which soared while she was chancellor. Then, last March, USA Today published the results of a yearlong investigation of the Washington schools that found a high rate of erasures on tests as well as suspiciously large gains at 41 schools — one-third of the elementary and middle schools in the district.
Since then, Ms. Rhee has refused to talk to the reporters who know the story best, although she has been talking to many other people.
During the last year Ms. Rhee has, according to a spokeswoman, scheduled more than 150 public appearances as the head of Students First, an advocacy group that favors vouchers, charter schools and evaluating teachers by test scores, while opposing tenure and teachers’ unions.
Ms. Rhee has also given speeches around the country for a fee of up to $50,000, “plus first-class expenses,” according to an e-mail from Peter Jacobs of the Creative Artists Agency that was posted online by one of Ms. Rhee’s critics. (Emily Lenzner, spokeswoman for Ms. Rhee, said that the former chancellor charges for a “handful” of speeches a year and that the “amount varies.”)
Does it really matter that Secretary Duncan has appeared onstage with Ms. Rhee?
Mr. Duncan doesn’t think so, according to his spokesman, Justin Hamilton. “It’s irresponsible for a New York Times columnist to presume guilt before we have all the facts,” Mr. Hamilton wrote in an e-mail. “Our inspector general is investigating the cheating issue in D.C. public schools, and we should all let the findings speak for themselves.”
The Office of the Inspector General is an independent oversight agency, although the secretary can refer cases for investigation. 
Richard L. Hyde is one who believes that Mr. Duncan should keep his distance. Last year, Mr. Hyde directed 60 state agents in a nine-month investigation of cheating in the Atlanta public schools. They identified 178 teachers and principals in nearly half of the city’s schools who cheated — 82 of whom confessed. The case they built is so strong that criminal indictments are expected.
Mr. Hyde said that to get witnesses to cooperate in such investigations, they must believe that the political leadership is committed. “I’m shocked that the secretary of education would be fraternizing with someone who could potentially be the target of the investigation,” he said. “The appearance of a conflict of interest is troubling because it can cause the public to lose faith in the investigation.”
In Atlanta, the governor at the time, Sonny Perdue, provided extensive resources for the inquiry and then stayed away. “I purposely kept a very low profile and let investigators do their work,” Mr. Perdue said in an interview.
Ms. Lenzner, the spokeswoman for Ms. Rhee, noted in an e-mail that Washington’s scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress had improved under Ms. Rhee’s leadership, a sign that the gains made on other tests were real. The federal test is considered the gold standard of assessments and beyond tampering.
Washington did record some of the highest gains in the nation on the federal math tests. However, reading results were less impressive, with eighth graders scoring lower under Ms. Rhee than they had a decade before.
In Atlanta, gains on the federal tests were even higher than Washington’s, yet cheating was pervasive on the state tests that are used to rate schools, principals and teachers and to pay performance bonuses.
The Atlanta and Washington situations are similar in several ways. Ms. Rhee and Beverly Hall, the former Atlanta superintendent, both relied on fear to motivate, relentlessly driving their work forces. Dr. Hall told principals that if scores didn’t go up enough in three years, they’d be fired. Ms. Rhee bragged about how hard she pushed. “We want educators to feel the pressure,” she said.
Erasure analyses of answer sheets indicated the possibility of widespread cheating in both districts.
In Atlanta, as in Washington, it was journalists who first questioned the test results. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published its first articles in 2001. In the years before widespread cheating was documented by state investigators, Dr. Hall denigrated the newspaper coverage and the education establishment rallied to support her.
Michael Casserly, director of the Council of Great City Schools, called the early news reports about Atlanta “badly misleading” and based on “very bogus analysis.” Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit student advocacy group, wrote that scores were being questioned because people wouldn’t believe that children of color could achieve.
Both Ms. Rhee and Dr. Hall conducted their own internal investigations that found little or no cheating. Both cities hired Caveon, a private test-security company, which reached the same conclusion. The state investigative report for Atlanta criticized the company, noting that “many schools for which there was strong statistical evidence of cheating were not flagged by Caveon.”
In 2009, Ms. Rhee announced that Caveon’s inquiry had cleared the district, but the company’s owner, John Fremer, disagreed, saying that the scope of the investigation was limited and that he was not asked by Ms. Rhee to do more.
Of course, just because there are similarities does not mean that the same level of corruption that existed in Atlanta exists in Washington.
But the public is entitled to know. And school officials cannot be trusted to investigate themselves. Kaya Henderson, who was Ms. Rhee’s deputy and is now the chancellor, has called the cheating accusations “harmful” and “unfounded.”
It will take courage for people to come forward and bear witness.
So it is disheartening that federal officials have selected Ms. Henderson as a keynote speaker for a daylong conference on Tuesday that is sponsored by the department’s National Center for Education Statistics.
It is billed as a “Testing Integrity Symposium.”
E-mail: oneducation

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mark Naison: Are public schools unfairly blamed for America’s economic woes?

Ohanian Comment: A few years ago I went on a tour of Detroit. "Chilling" is the word. With its burnt-out and boarded-up neighborhoods, I could not believe that it was an American city. And seeing little children walking to school along those devastated streets just broke my heart. That sounds trite, but it was a profound experience, seared in my mind's eye forever. As Naison puts it:

This was all the terrible consequence of globalization, de-industrialization and economic stagnation. The people living in these communities, especially the young, were navigating landscapes comparable to those seen in the aftermath of warfare, and in their eyes was the fear and uncertainty of people who feared they had become as disposable as the decimated industries that once thrived there.

Mark Naison asks good questions. Think about the answers.

Mark Naison, professor of African and African American Studies at Fordham University in New York and chair of the department of African and African-American Studies. He is also co-director of the Urban Studies Program, African-American History 20th Century. A version of this first appeared on the blog With A Brooklyn Accent.

Mark Naison

After the publication of my first book, in 1983, I went on a lecture tour that took me to Buffalo, Youngstown, Bridgeport, Newark, Detroit, Trenton, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, where I toured industrial districts. What I saw was chilling.

I watched the great Ford River Rouge plant in Detroit, which once employed 44,000 workers, reduced to rubble. I saw along the Monongahela River near Youngstown the skeletons of steel mills, surrounded by tires and rotting lumber. On the East Side of Buffalo there were districts with every other house shuttered and every other lot empty, stained glass windows of beautiful cathedrals covered with wood planks, and landscapes dotted with abandoned warehouses. Once-proud row houses in sections of Baltimore and North Philadelphia were boarded up and crumbling, and industrial buildings with shattered windows created a landscape of decay that matched the atmosphere of despair and defeat on the streets.

This was all the terrible consequence of globalization, de-industrialization and economic stagnation. The people living in these communities, especially the young, were navigating landscapes comparable to those seen in the aftermath of warfare, and in their eyes was the fear and uncertainty of people who feared they had become as disposable as the decimated industries that once thrived there.

But in each of these communities, there was an institution that remained functioning and intact -- the neighborhood public schools. No matter what happened in the surrounding area, their doors remained open and they tried to serve young people whose lives were being turned inside out by a catastrophe of a kind that no one thought could take place in the United States of America.

While those schools showed serious signs of decay and often seemed overwhelmed by the problems deeply wounded students carried with them to class, the schools remained their neighborhoods most important "safe zones," and at times provided an uplift for everyone through artistic and athletic achievements.

Now flash ahead 20 years later and these very same schools are being blamed for the economic failures of the communities in which they are located and for the educational failures of their students. Their teachers are publicly pilloried as overpaid, selfish and a drain on a national economy that requires schools to be run with the efficiency of American business.

My reaction: "What? American business? Efficient?" Whose failing enterprises left 10 miles of waterfront in Youngstown a wasteland of rusting steel, rotting lumber and old tires? And took three quarters of the jobs away from the largest auto producing center in the nation? And left the majority of its adult males without employment? And created a 150-mile stretch of Amtrak from Newark to Baltimore with at least 500 abandoned factories and warehouses that have never been rebuilt? And that was just in he '80's and '90's!

Whose uncontrolled financial speculation led to the more recent troubles of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and the American International Group, along with the disappearance of $7 trillion Dollars in wealth once owned by individuals, pension funds, banks and insurance companies? Are 28 percent of the homes in the United States under water because of union teachers? Can they also be blamed for the 44 percent black unemployment rate in the city of Milwaukee?

America’s public schools were never perfect. But they helped hold the country together through wrenching economic crises that left many communities deeply wounded and many Americans wondering if they had a future. Some of what went on in our most economically depressed schools involved real courage and heroism. All of it required patience and hard work.

One thing these schools showed is that they could effectively run institutions without huge salaries and bonuses for executives and without a huge gap between the employees and their managers. In most public schools, the principal's salary was never more than a third higher than the highest paid teacher, rather than the 400 to 1 CEO to worker ratio that now exists in American industry. And maybe that was one of the reasons that public schools survived economic crises better than private companies, whose top executives never missed an opportunity to pillage a failing firm for their "golden parachutes."

If I sound ironic, and maybe a little bitter, it's because I think most elected officials today have it all wrong. It is not American business that is the great success story and public education the dismal failure. Maybe it's time to bring teachers and administrators into our top firms and have them show how to run things without wasting huge amounts of money on executive salaries, and without making people work in constant fear of being fired.

It is time to look more realistically at the role our public schools have played in America's transition from an industrial society into service information society, which has left out huge portions of our population. And it is time to give educators the respect they deserve for handling one of the most difficult jobs in the society with a lot more endurance and courage and generosity than some in the private sector. — Mark Naison
Washington Post Answer Sheet


Monday, February 20, 2012

Why don’t top private schools adopt corporate-driven reforms?
Susan Notes:

This was written by Bruce D. Baker, a professor in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. This first appeared on his School Finance 101 blog.

In the name of ed reform the Gates Foundation is funding an earbud in every teacher ear in key districts. That will allow the coaches and teacher evaluators to relay information to the teacher while she's teaching. Can you imagine you imagine such an intrusion on professionalism at Exeter? I told some high schoolers who were studying in the winter woods of Vermont about this and the thought it was a hoot.

Reader Comment: This article is absolutely damning for those business leaders, like Bill Gates, who went to private schools and know what works in providing a top-quality education, and yet who push for reforms that diminish educational quality, such as increased class size. Do the reformers have a hidden agenda? Insure that their children, attending private schools, continue to get a superior education, while the education available to public-school children is changed so that those children present less competition to their private school counterparts, thus ensuring the continued social and economic dominance of their own children? Why else would they push reforms that actually destroy public education?

By Bruce D. Baker

Lately it seems that public policy and the reformy rhetoric that drives it are hardly influenced by the vast body of empirical work and insights from leading academic scholars which suggests that such practices as using value-added metrics to rate teacher quality, or dramatically increasing test-based accountability and pushing for common core standards and tests to go with them are unlikely to lead to substantial improvements in education quality, or equity.

Rather than review relevant empirical evidence or provide new empirical illustrations in this post, I'll refer to the wisdom and practices of private independent schools �" perhaps the most market-driven segment and most elite segment of elementary and secondary schooling in the United States.

Really. . . if running a school like a ‘business’ (or more precisely running a school as we like to pretend that 'businesses' are run… even though 'most' businesses aren't really run the way we pretend they are) was such an awesome idea for elementary and secondary schools, wouldn't we expect to see that our most elite, market oriented schools would be the ones pushing the envelope on such strategies?

If rating teachers based on standardized test scores was such a brilliant revelation for improving the quality of the teacher workforce, if getting rid of tenure and firing more teachers was clearly the road to excellence, and if standardizing our curriculum and designing tests for each and every component of it were really the way forward, we'd expect to see these strategies all over the home pages of web sites of leading private independent schools, and we'd certainly expect to see these issues addressed throughout the pages of journals geared toward innovative school leaders, like Independent School Magazine. In fact, they must have been talking about this kind of stuff for at least a decade. You know, how and why merit pay for teachers is the obvious answer for enhancing teacher productivity, and why we need more standardization. . . more tests. . . in order to improve curricular rigor?

So, I went back and did a little browsing through recent, and less recent issues of Independent School Magazine and collected the following few words of wisdom:

From Winter 2003, when the school where I used to teach decided to drop Advanced Placement courses:

A little philosophy, first. Independent schools are privileged. We do not have to respond to the whims of the state, nor to every or any educational trend. We can maximize our time attuned to students and how they learn, and to the development of curriculum that enriches them and encourages the skills and attitudes of independent thinkers. Our founding charters and missions established independence for a range of reasons, but they now give all of us relative curricular autonomy, the ability to bring together a faculty of scholars and thinkers who are equipped to develop rich, developmentally sound programs of study. As Fred Calder, the executive director of New York State Association of Independent Schools, wrote in a letter to member schools a few years ago: "If we cannot design our programs according to our best lights and the needs of our communities, then let the monolith prevail and give up the enterprise. Standardized testing in subject areas essentially smothers original thought, more fatally, because of the irresistible pressure on teachers to teach to the tests."

Blasphemy? Or simply good education!

And from way, way back in 2000, in a particularly thoughtful piece on "business" strategies applied to schools:

Educators do not respond to the same incentives as businesspeople and school heads have much less clout than their corporate counterparts to foster improvement. Most teachers want higher salaries but react badly to offers of money for performance. Merit pay, so routine in the corporate world, has a miserable track record in education. It almost never improves outcomes and almost always damages morale, sowing dissension and distrust, for three excellent reasons, among others: (1) teachers are driven to help their own students, not to outperform other teachers, which violates the ethic of service and the norms of collegiality; (2) as artisans engaged in idiosyncratic work with students whose performance can vary due to factors beyond school control,teachers often feel that there is no rational, fair basis for comparison; and (3) in schools where all faculty feel underpaid, offering a special sum to a few sparks intense resentment. At the same time, school leaders have limited leverage over poor performers. Although few independent schools have unionized staff and formal tenure, all are increasingly vulnerable to legal action for wrongful dismissal; it can take a long time and a large expense to dismiss a teacher. Moreover, the cost of firing is often prohibitive in terms of its damage to morale. Given teachers' desire for security, the personal nature of their work, and their comparative lack of worldliness, the dismissal of a colleague sends shock waves through a faculty, raising anxiety even among the most talented.

Unheard of! Isn't firing the bad teacher supposed to make all of those (statistically) great teachers feel better about themselves? Improve the profession? [that said, we have little evidence one way or the other]

How can we allow our leading private, independent, market-based schools to promote such gobbledygook? Why do they do it? Are they a threat to our national security or our global economic competitiveness because they were not then, nor are they now (see recent issues: http://www.nais.rg) fast-tracking the latest reformy fads? Testing out the latest and greatest educational improvement strategies on their own students, before those strategies get tested on low income children in overcrowded urban classrooms? Why aren’t the boards of directors of these schools -- many of whom are leaders in “business” -- demanding that they change their outmoded ways? Why? Why? Why? Because what they are doing works! At least in terms of their success in continuing to attract students and produce successful graduates.

Now, that's not to say that these schools are completely stagnant, never adopting new strategies or reforms. They do new stuff all the time (technology integration, etc.) -- just not the absurd reformy stuff being dumped upon public schools by policymakers who in many cases choose to send their own children to private independent schools.

In my repeated pleas to private school leaders to provide insights into current movements in teacher evaluation and compensation, I've actually found little change from these core principles of nearly a decade ago. Private independent schools don't just fire at will and fire often and teacher compensation remains very predictable and traditionally structured. I'd love to know, from my private school readers, how many of their schools have adopted state-mandated tests?

Private independent schools pride themselves on offering small class sizes (see also here) and a diverse array of curricular opportunities, as well as arts, sports and other enrichment �" the full package. And, as I’ve shown in my previous research, private independent schools charge tuition and spend on a per pupil basis at levels much higher than traditional public school districts operating in the same labor market. They also pay their headmasters well! More blasphemy indeed.

In fact, aside from "no excuses" charter schools whose innovative programs consist primarily of rigid discipline coupled with longer hours and small group tutoring (not rocket science), and higher teacher salaries ( here, here and here) to compensate the additional work, private independent schools may just be among the least reformy elementary and secondary education options out there.

That’s not to say they are anything like "no excuses" charter schools. They are not in many ways. But they are equally non-reformy. In fact, the average school year in private independent schools is shorter not longer than in traditional public schools �" about 165 days. And the average student load of teachers working in private independent schools (course sections x class size) is much lower in the typical private independent school than in traditional public schools. But that ain't reformy stuff at all, any more than trying to improve outcomes of low income kids by adding hours and providing tutoring.

Nonetheless, for some reason, well educated people with the available resources, keep choosing these non-reformy and expensive schools. Some of these schools have been around for a while too! Maybe, just maybe, it's because they are doing the right things -- providing good, well rounded educational opportunities as many of them have for centuries, adapting along the way.

Perhaps they've not gone down the road of substantially increased testing and curriculum standardization, test-based teacher evaluation -- firing their way to Finland -- because they understand that these policy initiatives offer little to improve school quality, and much potential damage.

Perhaps there are some lessons to be learned from market-based systems. But perhaps we should be looking to those market based systems that have successfully provided high quality schooling for centuries to our nation's most demanding, affluent and well educated leaders, rather than basing our policy proposals on some make-believe highly productive private sector industry where new technologies reduce production costs to near $0 and where complex statistical models are used to annually deselect non-productive employees.

Just pondering the possibilities, and still waiting for Zuck (an Exeter alum) to invest in Harkness Tables for Newark Public Schools and class sizes of 12 across the board!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The War on Education Scapegoating Teachers

FEBRUARY 14, 2012


The War on Education
Scapegoating Teachers

The first to discover that teachers make perfect scapegoats was George W. Bush. When he ran for president for the first time twelve years ago, Bush had a problem. He wanted lower taxes to be his rallying cry, but while taxes in Texas, the state where he was governor, were indeed low, the schools in Texas were notoriously bad.
The numbers are no better today: Texas ranks 47th in the county in literacy, 49th in verbal SAT scores and 46th in math scores. To blind the public to the evidence of what low taxes do, Bush produced evidence of a miracle: When it comes to education money is not what matters, he declared; what matters is holding teachers accountable. In Houston, Bush told voters, the superintendent of schools held teachers accountable, and as a result Houston saw a dramatic improvement in school quality, particularly when measured by high school graduation rates. So convincing was the miracle that as soon as he took office Congress agreed to pass the Bush tax cuts and the No Child Left Behind law.
Eight years later the “Texas miracle” was exposed. It turned out that the numbers had been cooked: Instead of the 1.5% drop-out rate that Houston had reported, the actual rate was somewhere between 25 and 50 percent. And in order to boost test results children who were considered weak in even just one subject were prevented

from entering the 10th grade, the year in which the tests were administered. But by then the truth no longer mattered because the ideas that taxes are not needed to run a democratic government and that teachers, not budgets, are responsible for the failure of schools had invaded the body politic.
When Bush ran for office the rate of unemployment was low and there was a surplus in the government coffers, rather than a deficit. Today the economic situation is dire and most Americans believe that inequality is the biggest problem that the country faces. Occupy Wall Street blames the 1% — but the 1% and their elected officials have found someone else to blame: Bad teachers are back.
A new study just out from economists at Harvard and Columbia would seem to offer the proof. The study does not claim that the measurement of teachers will produce better students–this was Bush’s claim and it has already been exposed–but instead that the measurement of teachers will make students richer as adults.
President Obama echoed themes from the study when in his State of the Union Address, instead of acknowledging Occupy Wall Street, he stuck it to teachers: ”A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance,” he said. “Give them [schools] the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones…and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”
Unlike the Texas miracle, the Harvard-Columbia revelations are not based on fraudulent numbers. But what is deeply problematic is the spin that the authors give to their findings. The study examined the incomes of adults who, as children in the 4th through the 8th grades, had teachers of different “Value Added” scores, with Value Added defined as improvement in the scores of students on standardized tests. The study claims that the individuals who had excellent teachers as children have higher incomes as adults; we will examine the validity of this claim below. But first we must ask what these higher incomes mean. When they were children, these individuals were poor. What the H-C authors fail to mention is that even when they had excellent teachers as children and therefore have higher incomes as adults, these individuals, despite their higher incomes, remain poor.
The devil is in the details: the average wage and salary of a 28 year old in the H-C study who had an excellent teacher was $20,509 in 2010 dollars, $182 higher than the average annual pay of all 28 year olds in the study. How does this compare to the average salary and wage of a 28 year old in this country? The authors excluded from their study people whose income was higher than $100,000. As we shall see, this exclusion is problematic; but to do the comparison we must do the same. The average salary and wage in 2010 of a 28 year old who earned less than $100,000 a year was $29,041, 42% higher than the income of a 28 year old in the H-C who had an excellent teacher. In other words, even if we accept the numbers that the authors of the H-C study choose to spin, having an excellent teacher cannot pull people out of poverty.
The exclusion of people with high incomes involved some 4,000 individuals, or 1.2% of the sample. The authors justify it by claiming that such people are outliers. But what if it turned out those high income earners had “bad” teachers? Including them in the study would have completely changed the results. Excluding a large number of the best performers from a study about the effect of teaching seems strange.
There’s more. While the H-C study found a statistically significant, if meaningless, relationship between the “value added” of teachers and incomes at age 28, the authors did not find a statistically significant result at age 30. Why? In the study the authors explain this by the small number of 30 year olds in their sample. In their interviews with the media and in public presentations the authors do not mention this result at all. Yet the number of 30 year olds in their sample is 61,639, and these are all students who went to school in the same city. Is this a small sample? To gain an appreciation for the size of the sample consider the fact that in order to estimate the unemployment rate that it publishes every month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics relies on a national survey of 60,000 households with an average of 1.95 adults in each. Surely if 120,000 peoples are a good size sample to study a labor force of 150 million people spread all over the country, a sample of 61,639 is a good size sample to study a population of fewer than 5 million elementary school students who all come from the same school system. By any measure the sample size is not only adequate, it is fantastically huge, and the result is not statistically significant.
But the statistically insignificant results for 30 year olds may have been inconvenient for the authors for another reason. An increase of $128 a year is small by any standard, so the authors resorted to estimating a lifetime increase in earnings due to this increase. To do that they assumed that the percentage increase in income, 0.9 of one percent, which they estimated for age 28, holds for each year of a person’s working life. And perhaps this is why the authors chose to ignore the results for the 30 year olds. All that their findings permit them to claim truthfully is that an excellent teacher increases average annual income by $128 at age 28, and that this effect disappears at age 30. But then there would have been nothing to report.
Doesn’t teacher quality matter? Not when it comes to explaining the deliberate assault on the wages of workers by executives with the support of most of our elected officials. A federal law permits states to pass the doublespeak Right to Work law. Boeing, a major recipient of government largess, has just moved production from Washington State to South Carolina because, according to Governor Nikki Haley, “We are fighting the unions every step of the way. We are a strong Right to Work state and going to stay that way.” The Supreme Court has recently ruled that executives can use shareholders’ money to their heart’s desire to influence elections. Executive pay remains totally out of control and totally unregulated. Government workers have lost the right to bargain collectively in several states. These are the laws that must be changed if we are to fight poverty. Does the president really believe that teachers can change all these laws by themselves when he says that “a great teacher can offer an escape from poverty?”
The attack on “bad teachers” is a dishonest diversion, and nothing more than a reincarnation of the Texas Miracle. The problem is the power of the 1%; the solution is to pass it to the 99%.
Moshe Adler teaches economics at Columbia University and at the Harry Van Arsdale Center for Labor Studies at Empire State College. He is the author of Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal (The New Press, 2010), which is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dan Pink on teacher merit pay

From Leonie Haimson:

As merit pay and other forms of financial incentives proliferate throughout our nation’s schools, promoted by corporate ed reformers like Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Bloomberg, expert Dan Pink points out how it doesn’t work, in an excellent article in today’s Washington Post.  

In fact, the research is overwhelming that financial incentives undermine intrinsic motivation.  Of course, none of the policies being imposed on our schools have ANY backing in research or experience.

The below article in today’s Washington Post includes a reference to the very same DC teacher, Tiffany Johnson, who is quoted in every article about the DC Impact system, saying that she may stay teaching in DC longer after getting a big bonus.  Whether the fact that Ms. Johnson is the only teacher ever featured in these articles is due to the laziness of reporters or because it is hard to find another such teacher I don’t know. 

She was featured in a biased NYT front page article on New Year’s Day, later cited by Howie Wolfson, NYC Deputy Mayor, when he was challenged to come up with a single piece of evidence that merit pay was not a waste of taxpayer moneyThis NYT article apparently convinced Bloomberg to push for merit pay in his State of the City Address – though now, it seems like this proposal was nothing more than PR blather, as this it is not reflected in the DOE budget   

On Jan. 9, Ms. Johnson was interviewed on local DC TV; and a few days later, she was quoted again in a story in the Daily News, making the very same points.   I hope she has a press agent; she could go on the road with Michelle Rhee.

For another view that backs up the findings of Pink and other experts about how damaging such systems can be to teacher morale, see how the Impact system in DC caused Stephanie Black  to quit the profession  -- in a post on our blog that has been read nearly 3000 times and reprinted in many other places since.

As teacher merit pay spreads, one noted voice cries, ‘It doesn’t work’
By Lyndsey Layton, Wednesday, February 15, 12:24 PM
Merit pay for teachers, an idea kicked around for decades, is suddenly gaining traction.
Fervently promoted by Michelle A. Rhee when she was chancellor of Washington’s public schools, the concept is picking up steam from a growing cadre of politicians who think one way to improve the country’s troubled schools is to give fat bonuses to good teachers.
The Obama administration has encouraged states to embrace merit pay, highlighting it as one step states could take to compete for more than $4 billion in federal funds through the Race to the Top program. Indiana and Florida passed legislation that requires merit pay for teachers; Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) announced a few weeks ago that he wants the same.
The most recent convert: New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg (I). “This is an idea whose time has come,” Bloomberg declared at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting last month. “I’m confident that if the teachers are allowed to decide the matter for themselves, they’ll support it in New York City just the way they did here in Washington, D.C.”
What if they’re all wrong?
Meet Dan Pink, author of the 2009 bestseller “Drive.” He’s a former White House speechwriter, a student of social science, a highly sought-after lecturer and an influential voice when it comes to what motivates Americans in the workplace.
What does he think of merit pay for teachers?
“It doesn’t work.”
* * *
Pink, 47, is holding forth from his writer’s studio in Cleveland Park, a converted garage that sits behind his six-bedroom house. Here, surrounded by a wall of books dotted with knicknacks made by his three children, he pads around in stocking feet, a living testimonial to his work.
“Rewards are very effective for some things — simple things, mechanical things,” he explains. “But for complicated jobs that require judgment and creativity, the evidence shows that it just doesn’t work very well.” Teaching, of course, is one of those jobs.
The impetus for his investigation of what drives us came in an e-mail from a reader, who wanted to know how to motivate his employees. Pink got knee-deep in research on the subject and was surprised to learn that offering a reward to entice someone to perform complex tasks often does not have the desired effect and can even make that person perform less well.
He was struck by a 1973 study by psychologists Mark Lepper, David Greene and Robert Nisbett that illustrates this clearly. Watching a preschool class, the researchers identified the children who most enjoyed drawing. They divided those children into three groups. The first group was shown an elaborate “Good Player” certificate and the children were asked if they wanted to draw to receive the certificate. The second group was asked if they wanted to draw and, if they did, were given the unexpected reward of a “Good Player” certificate afterward. The third group was asked if they wanted to draw but was neither promised an award at the beginning nor surprised with one at the end.
Two weeks later, the researchers observed that the children in the second and third groups — who had either been given an unexpected award or no award at all — drew with as much enthusiasm as they had before the experiment. But the children who had been offered the reward showed less interest and spent less time drawing.
Other scientists replicated these findings through different experiments, proving the effect with not just children but adults as well.
In 2010, the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University published what it termed the first scientifically rigorous study of merit pay for teachers. Researchers found teachers in the Nashville public schools who were offered bonuses of up to $15,000 a year for improved student scores on standardized tests made no greater gains than teachers who were not offered merit pay.
Tangible, extrinsic rewards can dampen intrinsic motivation, Pink said, noting that these findings have been repeated in dozens of experiments over the decades. “The science on this is robust,” he said. “And it’s also among the most ignored.”
* * *
What does work?
Pink said research shows that people who hold jobs that require creativity and sophisticated problem-solving perform best when they have autonomy, an opportunity to master something and a sense of purpose.
He could have been talking about himself.
Like legions of others, Pink came to Washington for the politics. Fresh out of Yale Law School, he worked on campaigns and fell into speechwriting.
“I could type fast and write reasonably well,” said Pink, who first worked in the Clinton administration, initially as an aide to then-Labor Secretary Robert Reich and then-Vice President Al Gore, becoming his chief speechwriter in 1995.
The pace was furious, the setting glamorous.
But after a while, Pink began to question what he was doing. “Here I was, close to the epicenter,” he said. “But so much of it was about the game and so little about doing things. And I was lucky — I was working for Reich and Gore, and these are good guys, serious guys. But even then . . . I thought: Is that what I want to do with my life?”
He had written a few magazine articles, and enjoyed it — especially the liberation that came from writing solo, without the ritual of having a dozen other people chime in to debate word choices, as was routine in his speechwriting job.
In 1997, with backing from his wife, then a lawyer at the Justice Department, he quit his White House job and set out to write “Free Agent Nation,” a book about people who left traditional jobs to work for themselves.
Leaving the security of a paycheck “was scary,” he said, “but the alternative was scarier.” His wife, Jessica Lerner, quit her job a year later. With the security of her continued health insurance under COBRA, they traveled the country with their toddler daughter as he did the reporting for the book, published in 2001.
Sales were good enough that Pink realized he, too, could work for himself. He wrote the best-selling “A Whole New Mind” in 2006, about how creativity has become essential to success in the changing economy, followed by “The Adventures of Johnny Bunko,” a career guide in Japanese comic-book format. “Drive” followed in 2009.
Pink is living a life built on the themes that run through his books: He enjoys great freedom to explore what interests him, he believes that his work serves a larger purpose, and he strives to master the subjects and the writing.
Beyond his books, Pink does a podcast known as “Office Hours” in which he interviews authors, academics and business leaders about work, life and other matters and takes calls from listeners. And he gives lectures roughly four times a month. A video of a Pink lecture based on “Drive” is among the 20 most viewed on the TED talks Web site.
(Pink publishes his e-mail address in every book and answers every letter he gets. “It’s the reason I had 98 e-mails on Saturday,” he remarks.)
* * *
Merit pay for teachers has been discussed since at least the 1950s and tried in small ways here and there. But most efforts collapsed against resistance from unions and the failure to develop objective ways to measure teacher performance. In the vast majority of districts, teacher salaries are still based on seniority and level of education.
Rhee, who now advocates for merit pay around the country through her organization StudentsFirst, said critics like Pink misunderstand merit pay. It’s not supposed to inspire a mediocre teacher to greatness — it’s designed to retain high achievers, she said. “It’s about the kind of culture you want to create, where excellence is rewarded,” Rhee said in a recent interview.
Eric A. Hanushek, an economist at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, said merit pay will attract a different kind of educator to the classroom: someone who wants to be held accountable and rewarded for performance.
But Pink said that kind of thinking makes little sense. First, he said, even businesses have begun to question whether “if-then” reward systems benefit the company in the long term. Second, education is not a business, he said, despite the intention of some reformers armed with MBAs who want to bring a corporate mind-set to the classroom. “Do you want your kids taught by an intensely competitive person who’s motivated by money?” he asks.
Tiffany Johnson doesn’t spend a lot of time considering the intellectual debate over merit pay. Johnson, who teaches at Ron Brown Middle School in Northeast Washington, is among 476 teachers out of 3,600 in the District who pocketed a substantial bonus at the start of the school year. She saw her pay soar from $63,000 to $87,000 in September.
“You feel appreciated for all the hard work you put in,” said Johnson, who had considered applying for teaching jobs in Montgomery County, where a starting teacher is paid about $5,000 more than in the District. “This helps me to stay.”
D.C Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson was seated next to Pink at a White House event a few months ago. She read “Drive” when it was published, but it didn’t shake her belief in the value of merit pay.
“A great teacher is not going to teach harder or better because there’s a bonus,” Henderson said in an interview. “But if they make a significant accomplishment, treating them the same way we treat the teacher who sent their kids backwards makes no sense. . . . This whole one-size-fits-all approach is so counter to me. There are very few occupations that have a lockstep pay schedule. . . .
“I’m in a situation where right now I have to change outcomes for kids. I don’t have the money to raise teachers’ salaries to $100,000 across the board. But I do have the money to reward my highest-performing teachers.”
Pink thinks there’s nothing wrong with paying teachers more. In fact, all teachers should earn more, he said, so they don’t abandon teaching for financial reasons.
“It’s not that money doesn’t matter,” Pink said. “It’s that the best use of money is to get people to stop thinking about money.”
In nearby Montgomery County, Superintendent Joshua P. Starr opposes merit pay. On a recent night, he featured Pink at his book club and attracted so many parents and teachers that a monitor had to be set up for the overflow crowd at Barnes & Noble in downtown Bethesda.
Starr had fringed his copy of “Drive” with yellow Post-it notes and kept flipping it open to read aloud passages he found intriguing. The crowd laughed at Pink’s jokes, nodded in agreement and swarmed him for autographs when the event was over.
“I have luxuries that other superintendents don’t,” Starr said. “This isn’t a district that needs a turnaround. . . . But I think the only way to improve student achievement is to teach better. We don’t have a student learning problem. We have an adult learning problem. We have to learn to teach better.”
“And how do you create those conditions? How do you motivate people? Do you do it through merit pay? No, it doesn’t work. You do it by engaging them with teamwork and a purpose and a meaningful life.”
The national debate over merit pay is a distraction from the challenges faced by the American educational system, Pink said, days after the Rockville event. “Well-intentioned public officials want to do something, and they look at [merit pay] as a silver bullet. The real problem is poverty,” he said.
If politicians want to improve academic performance, they should “reduce teenage pregnancy, give excellent prenatal health care and provide universal preschool — and test scores will go up,” he said. “But that’s a lot harder to do, and a lot more expensive than merit pay.”
© The Washington Post Company


VIDEO: PEP, Parents and Pandemonium!

VIDEO: PEP, Parents and Pandemonium!

Final decision: The DOE will shutter 23 more failing schools
It was near-bedlam last night at Brooklyn Technical High School in Brooklyn, the site of the Panel for Educational Policy's final hearing where PEP ultimately voted to close 23 of New York City's failing public schools.
In what may have been the largest turnout in the history of PEP hearings, thousands of parents, students, teachers and administrators staged a thunderous, all-out protest of Mayor Bloomberg’s latest decision to shutter 23 failing schools, including at least one in every borough this academic school year.
In Bedford-Stuyvesant, two failing schools were slated for closure, The Academy of Business and Community Development (ABCD) and Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy VII (KAPPA VII).
However, in a rare move, on the eve of last night’s hearing, KAPPA VII was removed from the closure list, along with Wadleigh Middle School in Harlem, leaving ABCD amongst the 23 remaining schools at the mercy of the PEP.
Protests meant to derail the mayor’s decision were planned outside of the hearing and announced ahead of time by three separate groups: the United Federation of Teachers, the Coalition for Educational Justice and Occupy the DOE.
But Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said any efforts to derail voting and a final decision would fall on deaf ears.
“There are important proposals up for discussion tonight and my hope is that we will have a respectful process where people can be heard,” Walcott said in a statement before the hearing. “But if all the UFT wants to do is bus in Occupy Wall Street to disrupt public meetings — which provides absolutely no benefit to students — then we will just have to work around that.  We are prepared to move forward even if there are disruptions.”
Since Mayor Bloomberg took control of the DOE, he has moved swiftly to reform the New York City public school system by identifying failing schools and giving them a probationary period to turn around through various methods, including a mix of increased financial resources and staff professional development.
If within a certain time period -- usually 2-3 years -- the school fails to improve, the DOE moves to close the school and in its place open a new school, often a charter school with a different name, staff and governance. Charter schools do not fall under the UFT's umbrella, and in most cases at charter schools, students perform better.
However, parents and administrators have expressed growing discontent with the DOE and the mayor’s reform approach, arguing he should do more to repair existing schools. Additionally, they argue, the systems currently in place for school evaluations – teacher report cards and student test scores –  are underdeveloped and fail to paint a full picture. Also, closing a school leaves teachers out of work and creates an unstable environment for students.
Still, the yelling, screaming and pandemonium at last night’s hearing left almost no room for reasonable negotiation on either side of the aisle. Instead, the angry participants used the auditorium, the hallways and the streets surrounding the school's building as a stage to voice their ire.
One parent from Bed-Stuy’s ABCD shouted on the microphone, “Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, what does it remind me of? Destruction! Cathie Black? Destruction! Eva Maskowitz? Destruction! Testing? Destruction! Teacher Evaluation? Destruction! Power to the teachers and the parents! No more puppets!”
Michael Reilly, recording secretary for Community Education Council (CEC) 31, said the night felt like organized confusion. He and CEC 31’s president and vice president were there to speak about a new busing program that would improve student safety in Staten Island. But Reilly said he was not optimistic they would get a chance to speak, and he blamed the chaos on the mayor.
“To be honest and keeping it real, the mayor hand-selected eight of the 13 panelist that are up there right now, so we already know how the voting is going to turn out,” he said. “And that’s all because of the New York State legislator. The assembly and the senate gave him the power, and that’s the problem.”
Amalfia Mendinghall, PTA secretary at the Academy of Business and Community Development, said the DOE’s system for reform is flawed because instead of helping students improve, it is set up to first see them fail.
“They need services,” said Mendinghall. “They were supposed to get all of these support teams when the school first started having problems, and they haven’t brought in any services. The children don’t have any reading programs; there’s no math program; there’s no library. That’s just a setup for failure so they can close the school and bring in a charter school. But no one’s thinking about how that will affect the children.”
Related Topics: DOE, Hearing, KAPPA VII, Michael Bloomberg, Occupy the DOE, Panel for Educational Policy, The Academy of Business and Community Development, United Federation of Teachers, dennis walcott, and the Coalition for Educational Justice