Friday, August 29, 2014

Ineffective City Teachers?

Capital NY has a piece about the relatively large percentage of city teachers rated ineffective. On first glance, one might conclude that teachers in upstate cities aren't as good as teachers elsewhere in the state. Doubtless talking heads and op-ed columnists around the state will gleefully come to that conclusion, and much of the nation has been led to believe there's a zombie-like plague of bad teachers that must be eradicated at any cost.

And yet there's an important factor these folks will fail to consider--New York's junk science law allowed locals to negotiate agreements in how teachers were rated, and every single local has a different system with different criteria. I'm not an expert, but people in the know have told me the upstate city systems are among the very worst. I've no doubt that teachers rated "ineffective" will agree with that. More likely than inferior teaching quality is their union leaders are ineffective negotiators. There's certainly a lot of that going around.

While I have reason to believe the NYC system will not result in as many ineffective ratings, I know our system is cumbersome, unwieldy, and largely incomprehensible. We have complicated formulas with 15% of this and 40% of that, and there's simply no way such estimations can accurately rate what it is we actually do. Anyone who really believes it does knows nothing about our jobs.

Almost the entire rationale for this system was that teachers must be judged by test scores. The fact that teachers account for somewhere between 1 and 14% of test score variation is neither here nor there. That's why Diane Ravitch routinely refers to "value-added" ratings as junk science. So what we have here, basically, is a comparison of rotten apples and rotten oranges.

Of course, the fact that this story has no validity or relevance to what's really happening will not stop it from being widely discussed and more widely misunderstood. Corporate reformers will cry that 1% isn't enough and that more teachers must stink than the junk science indicates. They'll call for even worse systems. Our union leaders, the once who punch you in the face if you don't like Common Core, will stick their fingers up in the air to decide whether or not to further appease Bill Gates. Since they are highly principled, they will surely not be influenced by the millions of dollars they've already taken from him.

When nonsense like this is released, I suppose reporters have to write about it. But I don't really expect editorial writers and talking heads to think about it or discuss it in more than a very superficial fashion. Ironically, many of these same people will tell us we need Common Core because people aren't thinking deeply enough.

Given that, you have to give Mike Mulgrew some credit. When he says he'll punch you in the face if you touch his Common Core at least he doesn't make any pretense of having thought about anything at all.
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