Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Junk Science In, Junk Science Out

One of my favorite musicals is Fiddler on the Roof. Tevye the milkman sings a song called If I Were a Rich Man. He fantasizes about what his life would be like if he had money. Tevye longs for respect, and wants people to come to him for advice. He imagines people coming from all over to seek it.

And it won't make one bit of difference if I answer right or wrong,
When you're rich, they think you really know.

And there you have the essence of Bill Gates, who's hijacked American education with ideas that have no basis in practice or research. When Gates sent his people to my school, they were unable to explain to us what they were doing or why they were doing it. My guess? It didn't matter. Gates had already decided what he was going to do and twisted the "study" to support his conclusion.

Carol Burris, who's been critical of this from the start, writes about a new Gates-funded study that makes some predictable conclusions about the pipe-dream Gates imposed on the United States of America:

It concluded that the IP project did not improve either student achievement or the quality of teachers. In fact, it did more harm than good.

Of course, Burris and a whole lot of other principals were saying this well before the experiment began. And this is not an isolated Gates error either. His small-school initiative, the one that Bloomberg used to close schools en masse and effectively hobble union, has also failed, according to Gates himself. It kind of makes you wonder whether it's a good idea to turn our education system over to billionaires with time on their hands.

Some people certainly benefited from this program. For example, TNTP (The New Teacher Project), a creation of Michelle Rhee no less, scored a cool seven million bucks from Gates after it issued a study telling just how awful existing teacher evaluation was. They were placed in charged of hiring and firing in Shelby County, Tennessee. Pretty cool, huh? Since ordinary teachers suck, they used the instant ones from TFA:

This, according to the report, resulted in increased teacher turnover, since many TFAers only “intended to remain in teaching for only a few years.” The report found no evidence that the quality of the teachers recruited improved. those five-week wonders suck as badly as we do, or are there factors beyond teacher evaluation we should've examined? I mean, Gates, at the time, had pretty much determined the prime factor we needed to examine was just how much teachers suck. Gates decided to throw money at the ones he decided didn't suck so they'd move to districts in need of less sucky teachers.

Even with a cash incentive, teachers were reluctant to transfer to schools with high needs because they believed that would result in their receiving a lower VAM score, which was now part of their evaluation.

Do you see what's happening here? Teachers seemed to believe the actual students played a part in their own test scores. Also, by hanging test scores over teacher heads like the sword of Damocles, teachers didn't want to teach kids who might get low test scores. Go figure. This whole self-preservation instinct bedeviled Gates' efforts to identify and eliminate sucky teachers from the start. Burris comes to a more realistic conclusion, the very conclusion she and her fellow principals reached when they first saw Gates' Degrees of Suckiness:

The project failed because evaluating teachers by test scores is a dumb idea that carries all kinds of negative consequences for achieving the goal we all want — improved teaching and learning. Every good principal knows that improvement in teaching requires coaching built on a relationship of trust and mutual respect — not boxes and metrics intended to determine whom to punish and whom to reward.

That's what sensible administrators seeking sensible results think. That's what every teacher knows. That's why teachers have been so demoralized by this project. It's clearly conceived in vindictiveness. Cuomo, in fact, called it "baloney" when its first iteration failed to fire enough teachers. He referred to himself as a "student lobbyist," clearly suggesting those of us who spent our lives supporting students didn't give a damn about them. (Meanwhile, "lobbyist" Cuomo pointedly ignores the C4E law demanding lower class sizes, something that would actually help students in need.)

The newer junk science system also failed to fire as many teachers as Cuomo wanted. This notwithstanding, every teacher I know understands the goals of this system. We all understand all these people are walking around with checklists to determine just how much we suck. We feel it every moment of every day, and it's all because Bill Gates woke up one morning and decided he alone could measure suckiness. He imposed this program on virtually the entire country via Race to the Top, with the full cooperation of the Obama administration.

Though we now know it to be a miserable failure, we're stuck with it. Gates tosses seed money at communities and leaves broken systems in his wake. Hence we're stuck with small schools that don't work, and a teacher evaluation system based on the voices in Gates' head.

In New York City, because we have a large volume of vindictive and unreflective administrators, this situation is exacerbated. Although we have very few teachers ultimately rated ineffective, we recognize this system is designed to oppress rather than support us. Because it's entrenched in state law, and because all the papers post reformy nonsense as gospel in their editorial pages, it's a long, hard slog out of the garbage dump into which Gates placed us.

It's pretty clear to me, at least, that teachers need a system to support and help us, rather than one whose goal is finding out precisely how much we suck so it can more easily fire us.
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