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Monday, April 26, 2010

Times article on Klein's campaign to fire teachers regardless of seniority provokes more questions than it answers

In yesterday’s paper, the NY Times writes about Joel Klein's campaign to have the legislature pass a law that would allow principals to fire teachers, regardless of their seniority.

Excerpt: In 2008, New York City began evaluating about 11,500 teachers based on how much their students had improved on standardized state exams. A Times analysis of the first year of results showed that teachers with 6 to 10 years of experience were more likely to perform well, while teachers with 1 or 2 years’ experience were the least likely.

This article confirms what all research shows, that experience leads to more effective teaching. In fact, there are only two objective, measurable correlatives to effective instruction: smaller classes and more experienced teachers, and yet the administration has done everything it can to prevent either one from taking hold in NYC public schools.

Yet the article glosses over or omits much critical information.

Why does Klein want principals to be able to fire teachers with more seniority? It is not because of their quality, or lack thereof, but because they cost more money.

Why would principals tend to fire more experienced teachers if they get the chance? Not because they are less effective, but because of the “fair student funding” scheme imposed by Klein, principals now have to pay for their higher salaries out of their limited school budgets, meaning they are forced to choose between higher class sizes and experienced teachers.

Why is it that given the similar squeeze on the police and fire budgets, no one in the administration is recommending that either the Commissioner of Police or Fire Department be able to fire staff regardless of seniority? Indeed, there would be huge public outcry if the administration proposed firing senior police officers or firefighters; even though in their cases, there is far less research to show their increased effectiveness.

Of course, no one would dare put into place a system where police captains had total control over the staffing in their precincts, and had to pay for it out a limited budget, regardless of changes in local conditions and/or spikes in crime. Or for all the police officers to be fired in a precinct to be replaced with newbies if the crime rate rose.

No, this is part of the concerted attack on the whole notion of professionalism in the teaching force, and an attempt to destroy anything (read the union) that might interfere with the administration’s free-market, deregulatory, pro-privatization education policies.

One more question: how did the NY Times get a hold of the teacher data reports, based on value-added analysis of student test scores, to allow them to do the analysis mentioned above? Weren’t they supposed to be confidential?

According to an email from Jenny Medina, the reporter on the story, the Times submitted a FOIL request last year and received the teacher data reports on the district level, without names attached. It allowed them to “do some analysis, albeit fairly limited.”

Yet it is astonishing to me that there is a system in place for the last three years, in which these reports (see sample to the right) are distributed to principals and teachers, and now the Times as well, yet no member of the public has been allowed to see or vet the mathematical model on which they are based. This is especially the case, as given the chance, principals will likely refer to these reports to determine who to lay off.

More than a year ago, in February of 2009, I FOILed for the value-added formula embedded in the teacher data reports; as well as the identity of the supposedly expert (but still secret) panel that had approved of its validity and reliability, and the DOE has still not provided this information.

Every few weeks, I get the same canned response from the DOE, that “due to the volume and complexity” of the requests they receive, as well as the need to determine whether any redactions are needed, additional time is required, and I that should expect a substantive response within a month. And then I get the same exact email a month later. So much for transparency!

What's especially dangerous about all this, of course, is that through the "Race to the Top" fund, Arne Duncan and the US Department of Education is pushing states to adopt similar schemes, with teacher evaluation, pay and tenure based on student test scores, without any independent vetting of the reliability of such systems.

In fact, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report last October, warning that these systems are not ready for prime time, and might do more harm than good if implemented on a broad scale. From their press release:

"Too little research has been done on these methods' validity to base high-stakes decisions about teachers on them. A student's scores may be affected by many factors other than a teacher -- his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support -- and value-added techniques have not yet found a good way to account for these other elements...

From the NAS report itself:

In sum, value-added methodologies should be used only after careful consideration of their appropriateness for the data that are available, and if used, should be subjected to rigorous evaluation. At present, the best use of VAM techniques is in closely studied pilot projects. Even in pilot projects, VAM estimates of teacher effectiveness should not be used as the sole or primary basis for making operational decisions because the extent to which the measures reflect the contribution of teachers themselves, rather than other factors, is not understood. ....such estimates are far too unstable to be considered fair or reliable.

And yet little attention was given these vehement warnings of the nation's top academic experts in testing and statistics; with no mention in the NY Times or other national media, and no acknowledgement by the administration that their efforts to impose these models on the nation's school districts might be off track.

No, the motto of Joel Klein and Arne Duncan as well as their sponsors in the business community and the Gates Foundation continues to be: full speed ahead! And the reckless high-speed train of experimentation that threatens to run over our children's schools hurtles forward, without any end in sight.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You've certainly hit the nail on the head when you write "... this is part of the concerted attack on the whole notion of professionalism in the teaching force, and an attempt to destroy anything ... that might interfere with the administration’s free-market, deregulatory, pro-privatization education policies."


Here are a few other things else to consider:when considering the whether there is a concerted effort to strip professionalism from teachers and the profession as a whole:

-Teachers apparently have no way of checking whether the student data submitted is accurate.

- In some cases classes can be reorganized so that an out of favor teacher can be given a high proportion of historically poorly performing students; thereby increasing the challenge to a difficult if not impossible situation, then the data is used to "clearly show" how poorly performing the teacher is.

- The converse is also true. A favored teacher (due to some form of nepotism or reciprocal nepotism or the salary is simply less expensive ) can be given a larger proportion of highly scoring students which make the the favored teacher look even better than the disfavored teacher by comparison.