Education’s Moon Shot Or Race To The Annenberg? Plus, The NEA Fails To Launch…

Everyone is simply abuzz about the Race to the Top and the President and Secretary Duncan will unveil the proposed regulations later this morning.   

Couple of takeaways from the guidance. 

First, as the go-to Bushie for Road to Paigeascus conversions on ed issues,  Petrilli is posturing.  Federalism is hardly threatened here and in many ways a lot of this looks like the various “super ed-flex” and performance agreement ideas that conservatives were touting during the debate over No Child Left Behind.  Besides, states can choose not to compete.  And although they have to do a few things in this proposed set of regs, they’re pretty much left to their own devices about how.   In fact, that’s the problem.  When left to their own devices they tend to come up lame as the recent differentiated consequences pilot amply illustrated. 

Although the draft regs would exclude states that have a prohibition on linking student and teacher data at the individual level, very few states have an outright ban.  The problem, is that according to the Data Quality Campaign only 21 states (pdf) can make such a linkage  but fewer than a handful actually do anything with it.  That said, as the astute Michele McNeil pointed out yesterday, two states that do have bans are NY and CA…not exactly bit players.  Still, less than meets the eye.

Don’t miss the definitions of student achievement and effective teachers and principals.  That’s the first salvo in what’s likely to be a long debate at the federal level as we shift from credentialing based on paper credentials to some definition of effectiveness.

The charter school language is interesting.  It’s not just about caps but about states that have practices that effectively preclude charter schools from opening.  That’s good, because some states have charter laws, no caps, but the laws are basically faux laws because of how they work.   Maryland, Virginia, etc…fall in this category.  If the department holds the line there it will prove to be an important way to differentiate.

And overall that’s the big takeaway.  If the Dep’t can hold the line on this so that they can genuinely delineate amongst the states, keep the regs from getting watered down, and only give awards to states that are serious, and make some tough calls they’ll have something important here.  But that’s going to be a big lift and it’s going to be made harder – substantively and politically – by not taking a firmer line on some things up front in the regs.

 Here’s NEA president Dennis Van Roekel in today’s WaPo:

“We’re absolutely in sync with where they’re going,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. Van Roekel said performance pay, charter schools and links between student and teacher data raise difficult issues for his union. On the data issue, Van Roekel said he told Duncan: “This is going to be a tough one for us.”

That quote is self-contradictory nonsense.  it’s akin to saying they’re on board with Dunan’s ”moon shot” except for the parts about rockets, rocket fuel, astronauts, engineers, and mission control…To be fair, the NEA can’t support a lot of this because its at odds with their own member-derived policy positions, but it’s silly to pretend otherwise.

And you’re hearing a lot of that sentiment…we’re with you on the goals but…

A few interesting states to keep an eye on:  CO, DE, LA…

34 Responses to “Education’s Moon Shot Or Race To The Annenberg? Plus, The NEA Fails To Launch…”

  1. GGW Says:

    If I’m reading it correctly, this is the best sentence:

    “…increase the rates at which students graduate from high school prepared for college and careers.”

    Whoever wordsmithed that gets a beer.

    A less capable staffer might have written “increase HS graduation rate.” (Period).

    Which only would have accelerated the lower-the-bar “credit recovery” type stuff going on, as well as reward states like California which eliminate exit exams for certain kids.

    Under this definition, a state could put forward an effort to RAISE high school standards, make zero progress on HS graduation rate (to imagine a worst case scenario), make big gains in the college SUCCESS rate (ie, kids who graduate from high school know more stuff)….and have that credited in its application.

  2. john thompson Says:

    In almost every policy, the Obama administration represents a huge improvement. Even if you oppose charters, performance pay, or merit pay, the best approach is to say “you win some, and you lose some.” The only battle we can’t lose is the linking of individual teacher evaluations or tenure with test scores. And even if we lose that battle within the Obama administration, we still have the courts and after millions of dollars of legal fees I doubt we’d lose there.

    We still have time to persuade Duncan that the “firewalls” in NY and California are good for students and good for data-informed accountability, and even better for data-driven accountability. After all, “garbage in, garbage out” isn’t good for anyone. I’d also support a rewrite of the firewall legislation, and the compromise in Indiana makes a lot of sense. I expect these sensible solutions will quietly dominate in the reg process.

    And again, if we end the firewall, some districts will use the freedom to create better systems (along the lines of TAP, for instance) that better serve teachers and students. But given the opportunity, other systems would make life absolutely impossible for teachers, and there would be all kinds of outcomes in between.

    This is not a case of “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.” No profession can permit rules where significant numbers of their members can have their careers destroyed because of factors over which they have no control. You simply can not retain talent when a truly great educator can be destroyed simply because a bad principal or a bad policy are introduced or you get tougher classes. but you guys have heard this before.

    Secretary Duncan and President Obama do not have time to read the Ernst and Young audit of the NYC graduation rate, and even most policy analysts will just read the executive summary or the polical analysis, or just skim the report. But if you believe in data-driven accountability you owe it to the field of education to carefully read the audit, the NYC responses, and then the audits counter-responses. Even if you don’t teach, this gives you an insight into the Kafka-like world of education in the age of NCLB. Would you trust data from a system like Joel Klein’s DOD to be used in your evaluation?

    The audit descriibes ridiculous conventions like “annualization,” the awarding of multiple credits for repeating a freshman course, the alterations of official documents, the complete ignoring of crucial regulations and it didn’t even get into tricks like “credit recovery.” We all know that these behaviors also are the result of compassion, to pass kids on. But what would we be saying if those tricks and traps were being overtly used AGAINST students to drive them out of school?

    Teachers and our unions must fight policies that would greenlight comparable tactics to drive some teachers out of the classroom. And in this case it wouldn’t matter if the system wanted to get rid of senior teachers in order to replace them with younger ones, wanted to get rid of teachers who spoke out against policies like annualization and changing transcripts, or if it just wanted a shortcut to get rid of ineffective teachers. All people deserve fair treatment under the law, and if the law is too inefficient (and it is) then we must change it in a fair way.

    I don’t want to play the teacher card too much, but if you doubt that Secretary Duncan’s desire to link scores with evaluation would not cause great harm, addition the the good it produces, then you do need to teach for awhile. But f you don’t want to test this out in the classroom, then please carefully read the NYC audit and just don’t do unto others what you’d never want done to yourself.

  3. Chris Smyr Says:

    Honest question: short of linking teacher performance to student performance, what measures can be used to retain talent and reward excellence in schools?

  4. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    I agree completely with John Thompson. Using state tests, as they are now, to evaluate teachers, will never hold up in court. These tests would have to be redesigned for reliability and validity and that would be very difficult and very costly.

  5. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    Chris:

    We already have a method for retaining and rewarding excellence in teaching in our schools but it happens at the college and university levels. If we could do for K-12 what we do for the over 18 population, we’d see a huge improvement in our teaching force. We can copy much of what is happening at the college level: Have strict requirements for entry into the profession; no waivers or emergency credentials, offer teachers decent working conditions (phones, time to prepare lessons, etc.) offer professional autonomy (empower teachers to make decisions regarding professional entry and retention, curriculum and instruction) and offer strict due process for all teachers. Until our citizens value teachers and have a desire to treat them fairly, we’ll never be able to hire and retain the kind of teacher that we all seem to want. At the present time, K-12 teaching does not attract “the best and the brightest.” The bottom line is that highly educated people want jobs where they can be decision-makers. We need to make that happen.

  6. Chris Smyr Says:

    A lot of what you wrote didn’t let on about rewarding teachers for doing a stellar job. That’s half of my question. How do we do that?

    The other half, retaining (and I suppose acquiring) talent: Are teachers with more credentials somehow better teachers than those without credentials? I learned so much more about teaching by teaching, not by getting the extra credentials. Regardless when they are allowed to get into the classroom, new teachers will very much be novices (even those with extra credentials) until they’ve had actual teaching experience.

    Can you expand on decent working conditions? What does “time to prepare lessons” look like?

  7. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    I’d like to see teachers rewarded as college professors are. Faculty would vote on entry into the profession and decide on hiring, retention and promotions based on performance. Teachers would be rewarded with a career ladder (assistant teacher, associate teacher, teacher, mentor etc.) and salary. Promotions would be based on student achievement as measured by valid testing (no teaching test items) portfolios and observations by other teachers and administrators and/or inspectors from the state. Tests would have to measure progress from September to June and would have to be wide-range in order to accommodate the child who is several years below grade level. Involvement with parents and other faculty would count towards promotions. Leadership (e.g. teaching other teachers) would be considered also. I’d also like to see teachers become “head teachers” and replace site administrators as we have them now. In this way they would serve at the pleasure of the faculty and alleviate some of the discord that now prevails at many schools.

    Teachers of children need time to prepare lessons just as teachers of adults do. In many European and Asian countries, teachers have classes in the mornings and then collaborate and plan in the afternoons while special teachers (art, music, PE) take over their classes. Elementary and high school teachers should have about four hours a day of pupil contact with the rest of the time for lesson preparation. Did you know that in the United States teachers spend more direct time with students than in most nations of the world?

    Decent working conditions would provide a safe, clean environment with the needed tools for work (phone, computer, conference and book fees etc.) and time for collaboration with colleagues; lunch and bathroom breaks. Teachers would be provided with aides for children with severe behavior and learning problems. They would participate in all decision-making for their school.

    As for “credentials,” that is up to the citizens of each state. We need to have very rigorous standards and uphold them (no waivers or emergency credentials). I think secondary teachers ought to have master’s degrees in their subjects while elementary teachers should have a master’s in a subject plus courses in child development and methodology. While it is true that some people without credentials make “natural” teachers we can say the same about any profession. Just as I don’t want a doctor without a license, I don’t want a teacher without one either.

    The bottom line is this: If we can’t attract the “best and the brightest” people to the profession, we are not going to have the teachers that we want. If we continue to treat teachers as “the downstairs maid of the professions”( to borrow Frand McCourt’s priceless description) we won’t be able to hire or retain people who have first-class intellects. Many of our citizens have little regard for K-12 teachers and therein is the basis for our problems in education.

  8. Ceolaf Says:

    I am quite disturbed by the conditions placed on Race to the Top funds.

    Why?

    Well, these conditions force states to adopt policies that are not back by reseach. Heck, the reseach actually argues against their effectiveness.

    Testing experts would be happy to tell you that our tests do not have “instructional sensitivity.” Though common sense suggests that better teachers should consitently produce better student test scores — at least when using a value-added analysis — the research shows that this is not true. Accordind to these tests, if you account for initial differences in students, teachers vary widely in their relative effectiveness. Widely.

    The research consistently shows that charter schools are not better than non-charter public schools. I’ve generally assumed that they would be the same quality — with the same proportions of good an bad schools — but research does not even show that. Instead, we see that charter schools have a higher proportion of below average schools. (Well, at least by the measures that Duncan/Omaba seem to approve of.) Yes, they are popular. But they are not — as a group — as effective as non-charter public schools.

    Perhaps in the future we will figure out how to build instructional sensitivity into our tests. Perhaps in the future we will figure out how set up charter school laws and approval processes so that they are demonstrably better than non-charter public schools. When those times come, I would be in favor of strong-arming states to change their laws.

    However, until that point, these policies are actually bad for students. The research has shown us that. It is especially important that government put limits on programs that are popular with parents that are bad for children, not encourage them. After all, children are people, too. Heck, most of them are even citizens. Obama’s DOE is failing its duty to its most vulernable citizens, and there is no excuse for that.

  9. Mike Says:

    Is change coming at long last? I sure hope so. God Bless President Obama and Secretary Duncan. The status quo must be broken in public education, and the defenders of the failed regime are not going to go quietly or without eloquence as you can see above. Yes, we must do change intelligently, but change we must.

    Hundreds and hundreds of public charter schools are a success where no traditional public schools have been successful in decades. Is that not enough for you? Low income students and students of color going to college in record numbers in communities where only 20% were going before.

    As far as linking student achievement to teacher evaluations, it must be done, but it must be done thoughtfully and fairly. There is no other way to advance the profession. Teachers who believe in themselves are flocking to charter schools. We are getting 70 applications for every open position.

  10. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    Yes, we need change in education. I, too, want to see charters and I want teachers running all of them. Nothing will happen without the cooperation and leadership of teachers.

  11. Kelly/Preshcool teacher Says:

    I agree with everyones comments. There needs to be change in education. I am a preschool teacher and it feels like we do get the short end to the stick, we are sometimes seen as a glorified babysitter. Teachers are not given the respect that they deserve or paid as they should be. We shape and mold the future that is a very important noble job. We need to have qualified teachers in our schools and ones that are there for the right reasons. I think that all teachers should have to have a master’s degree, It makes you a better teacher and shows you are dedicated to your profession and you are there for the right reasons willing to expand on your education. When will we see the changes in education? It seems to be a slow process.

  12. john thompson Says:

    I agree that it wasn’t the letter of the law that caused the harm, it was the fear created by NCLB that caused the harm. And the tougher the school and the tougher the challenge, then the fear was worse, so the unintended consequences were worse.

    So, remove fear from data-driven accountability and you have data-informed accountability. Even if data-informed accountability didn’t pack as much of a punch (and I think it would) it wouldn’t have unintended effects that are so bad.

    Replace the campaign for data-driven evaluations with data-informed evaluations. The difference is that data wouldn’t produce the first cut. Data would be used to supplement, complement, verify, or disprove. A RttT compromise could be like Indiana’s or better yet, explicit protections against using test scores to drive, as opposed to inform evaluations, while pushing ahead on VAM models for incentives. Growth models are good enough for some things like performance pay, but not for ending an educator’s career, whether they are a principal, a teacher or a Secretary of Education.

    I don’t see these suggestions as weakening anything, just recognizing realities.

  13. stacey Says:

    I appreciate all of your comments. Linda, you made some great points in your post about changes that would benefit the teaching profession. I agree that change in the education world is necessary. Teaching is such a noble profession, but it is also a job that is often not treated as such. It will be interesting to see what happens in this new political climate.

  14. Chris Smyr Says:

    Just to respond to a few points:

    Linda had said: “Promotions would be based on student achievement as measured by valid testing (no teaching test items) portfolios and observations by other teachers and administrators and/or inspectors from the state.”

    What do you imply by mentioning validity? How are standardized tests invalidated from your assessment of what education needs?

    Linda had said: “As for “credentials,” that is up to the citizens of each state. We need to have very rigorous standards and uphold them (no waivers or emergency credentials). I think secondary teachers ought to have master’s degrees in their subjects while elementary teachers should have a master’s in a subject plus courses in child development and methodology.”

    Like I had said before, I would assert that more credentials do not a good teacher make. Good teaching is learned through teaching. Credentialing programs cannot possibly emulate what life is like as a teacher unless they allow that teacher to teach in a classroom. Removing alternative credentialing programs and insisting on rigorous requirements to teach will turn away any would-be talent.

    Ceolaf: Can you please cite the research you mention?

    John Thompson had said: “Replace the campaign for data-driven evaluations with data-informed evaluations. The difference is that data wouldn’t produce the first cut. Data would be used to supplement, complement, verify, or disprove.”

    By “data” here I assume you mean student achievement data. You are suggesting that student achievement data merely supplement other forms of data for teacher evaluations, such as observations, correct?

    I think this is a bad idea. It cuts the legs out of what teacher accountability ought to mean, that teachers should be accountable for their students’ success. As teachers we are taught so much of the profound nature of our profession, how much power and influence we have over all of our students’ growing minds. So why would we, then, have our students’ success take a backseat to school politics?

    A good teacher is not the principal’s best friend. A good teacher is not head of the so-and-so committee. A good teacher is one who did his or her job well, by helping all students have the opportunity to attain success. That’s our main goal, isn’t it?

    You had mentioned that we shouldn’t support policies where a “truly great educator can be destroyed”. Can you please elaborate on that statement? Wouldn’t a good educator be utilizing student data all throughout the year to better support his students in meeting state goals? Wouldn’t any deficiencies in student data be known earlier on before any type of disciplinary action results, so the educator can work to correct the deficiencies?

  15. john thompson Says:

    Chris,

    You equate test score increases with effective teaching? You don’t want to add any qualifications?

    Your web site said you’ve learned the history of standardized testing. You don’t want to add any qualifications to that grandiose statement?

    You said “I assert that all high school students and all of their unique needs can be described by their levels of the following three components: primary language fluency, reasoning ability, and intrinsic motivation.”

    You don’t want to retract that statement?

  16. LaWanda/9th Grade ELA Teacher Says:

    In response to both Chris and John,

    I think you both made valid points on the issue of need verifiable data by which to judge teachers. The point John makes which I agree with is that current standardized testing is not always indicative of one teacher’s efficacy. For example, if I have a student come into my class in September at a 5th grade reading level (4 levels below grade) who then progresses to a 7th grade reading level by June, he or she will still not test at grade level by year end. Does that mean I am not an effective teacher? Not at all! As John states, this would allow for “data-informed accountability,” instead of data-driven. While said student would still not be passing the state test, he or she would show significant improvement over the time he or she was in my class.

    In what other profession do we expect a perfect product regardless of the quality of rough material provided? I want to be held accountable for my students’ progress, but please do not hold me accountable for the teaching they received in the 8 years before I knew them!

  17. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    Chris:

    A test can be invalidated in many ways. The primary ways are by administering the test improperly (giving more time) and teaching the exact test items. During my 42 years of teaching I saw repeated examples of both. My own son was actually given a xeroxed copy of an old standardized test to practice at home. Many of the items were similar to the new test. He scored at the 99th percentile on it, as did some of the other children in his class. When a test is not valid, it does not give us accurate information. Teaching to the test, or teaching the exact test, are widespread practices across the United States, but many citizens seem unaware of it. If teachers are to be evaluated by test scores, then these tests need to be strictly administered and scored. There would have to be very strict security as there is for the SAT and other high-stakes tests. The tests would also need to be wide-range, which means they’d have to measure the progress of a child who is years below grade level.

    As to credentials, many people believe as you do that they are not necessary for K-12 teachers. (You’d better have your Ph.D. for a tenure-track college job.) There was a time when people felt the same way about medicine, nursing and law but now those professions are strictly regulated. In my opinion, once this (strict regulation) happens in teaching, we’ll see a huge improvement in the profession and in the types of people who aspire to it. The commonly held belief that “anyone can teach first-grade” has been extremely detrimental to our children. You can be certain that belief is not held in Finland, Korea or Germany.

  18. Andrew Bell Says:

    Making a career ladder isn’t about doing a good job for the kids. People come to work and do a good job because they feel appreciated and are motivated. Money is secondary (unless you’re CEO at Goldman Sachs or some such).

    In almost NO professional occupation do people receive significantly different pay simply because they work harder or do a better job. The single biggest factor leads to pay differences within a job is time on the job. It’s how the world works — not just teaching. There no evidence of which I am aware that says that paying teachers more or paying teachers depending on their skill does anything for students. The trick is finding and retaining good teachers.

    To attract better people to the occupation, make it more attractive (and that doesn’t just mean money). To keep them, have good management and pay them fairly. It’s not that complicated (though I admit there is a lot rolled up in the too previous sentences).

    “Everybody else does it” is no justification for certification. Teach For America gets good results with no more than a summer’s worth of training. It’s not the paper that makes a good teacher – it’s the individual. Onerous certification keeps good people out of the profession. Poor management and work rules keep people in who would find more fulfillment and success in other careers.

  19. Chris Smyr Says:

    John: the hostility isn’t necessary. I do think test score increases stem from the quality of the teacher, as we’re the deciding factor in how much our students learn.

    LaWanda: I understand that students will sometimes (or oftentimes, depending on the circumstances) reach a grade without the appropriate skills for that grade. Had that happen a lot to me. I don’t see how that undermines the point of using test scores as a measure of student success, however. Tests can use that data to give measures of growth over the year rather than an ultimate score of failing since the student was so behind from before, and the data can be compared with the growth data of other teachers in similar situations. Such a system just needs to be implemented.

    Linda: I don’t think your anecdote is symbolic of the entire testing effort, though. The tests definitely do need to be regulated and securely given, which is something that can be accomplished.

    The difference with medicine, nursing and law is that going to medical, nursing, or law school is 100% necessary for becoming a good doctor, nurse, or lawyer. (I wouldn’t want my surgeon to be younger than me!)

    I disagree with credentialing programs (or even the MAE) being of superior importance before teaching, mainly because there are so many ins and outs of teaching that just can’t be included in a few classes. Working with children requires constant practice with the children, not in a credentialing classroom with a bunch of other adults. Being a new teacher is really challenging work regardless of the credentials you have when you start.

  20. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    Chris,

    We have become so accustomed to having doctors, nurses and lawyers with credentials that many people think, as you do, that it’s 100% necessary to go to medical, nursing, or law school. Actually I agree with that also. However, even when I was a child in the 40s and 50s a person could become a lawyer without going to law school. When my mother was a child people could deliver babies without going to medical school (my immigrant grandmother was actually arrested for doing so just as the law changed). Some of these people (e.g. Abe Lincoln) were self-taught and did very well indeed. However, as their professions became more complex, society decided that there needed to be strict laws governing their entry. It’s easy for us to see why, but I know my grandmother was convinced that she didn’t need a license to deliver babies.

    The teaching profession is now at a crossroads, just as medicine was 150 years ago and law and nursing were within the last sixty years. I am not opposed to “alternative” credentialing plans, but I am very opposed to accepting anyone with a degree and a summer course. You can be certain these people are not accepted by affluent school districts. This is fact and not opinion.

    Teach for America is actually a good example of our need to improve the teaching profession. These graduates of “first tier” universities supposedly do as well, or better, than traditionally trained graduates. The problem is that many look upon teaching as temporary work and most leave after their two-year stint. What message does that send to our young people? We need highly intelligent people to choose teaching as a career and to stay in it.

    Based on my experience, I believe there is widespread cheating in testing. This is supported by the huge differences in state scores and the scores on the national tests (NAEP).

    Andrew:

    Teachers, like most people, want to be able to advance on their jobs. A career ladder, used in many top independent schools, would help attract talented people to the teaching profession and THAT would definitely help children. Many, if not most, teachers, do not want to leave teaching for administration, but they’d like promotions like everyone else.

    Everyone:

    We can see from these posts that there is a real hostility and disdain towards K-12 teachers. Many look down on teachers of children and want to strip them of the few privileges that they enjoy. My belief is that this attitude (“anyone can teach” and “let’s pull these teachers down a peg”) is the number one reason why our country is lagging in education.

    Ask yourself this question: Would you want your brilliant son or daughter, a graduate of Ivy League U., to choose K-12 teaching as a career? If your answer is No, please consider the effect your values have on the American public school system. You are not alone.

  21. Chris Smyr Says:

    You’ve not addressed the fact that a credentialing program cannot and will not adequately prepare a teacher for teaching. It is the nature of our work that prevents it from being comparable to medicine or nursing or law. A teacher will learn more in his first year of teaching than any credentialing program possible, and that is different from most professions where a training program does qualify the person for the job. Certainly not anyone can teach, but proposing there be more requirements to be able to teach asserts that those credentials really mean much, and they don’t.

    The assertion of cheating is without merit. If there were evidence of widespread cheating throughout the nation the entire concept of testing and safeguards against cheating would have to be reconsidered and we wouldn’t have a national movement toward its continued usage. That student achievement data varies from state tests to national tests is not indicative of foul play.

  22. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    I don’t agree that a teacher preparation program should be dissimilar to one for medicine, nursing or law; although I don’t think it needs to be quite as rigorous as medicine. Teacher aspirants should have to complete a master’s degree program and then spend a period of time as an intern. The internship could take the form of student teaching, or the intern could work with a master teacher for a year or two. Teachers should also have to take exams, as they do now. As I said, this should be up to each state but once the state decides on requirements for licensing, they should adhere to them. We need very high standards in teaching.

    You are wrong about cheating. Not only is it widespread, but it is frenzied, especially in poor schools, where the stakes are very high. If you don’t believe me, ask your state representatives and the people in the State Department of Education. That’s what I did and they all conceded that it is a big problem. Most citizens don’t know it’s going on and that’s why there’s a movement toward its continued use. However, I will say that my own state is tightening up the testing rules considerably. I like to think that all my “reporting” helped with this.

    Perhaps you don’t know what I mean by “cheating.” I am not referring to overt cheating, as in changing children’s answers or giving them the answers (although that’s done too). This is the method used in most schools and many teachers do not realize it is wrong:

    Teachers are given old copies of the test with many of the items that are the same from year to year. They drill the children on these from September to May. When the tests are distributed, principals encourage their teachers “to familiarize yourself” with the tests. The teachers look the tests over and teach whatever they think the kids might not know. For example, there might be 20 items on the math computation section. The teacher might not have to give that part of the test for two days; plenty of time to drill the kids on the 20 items, mixed in with a few other examples. Some of my friends see nothing wrong with this. One teacher said, “But how are my kids going to know these words, if I don’t teach them?” These teachers do not understand the concept of “sampling” so perhaps the word “cheating” should not be used to describe them. It’s better to say they are “invalidating the test.”

    It’s true that the NAEP scores aren’t proof of “invalidation” but they certainly suggest it.

    You might wish to read books about “miracle” schools and how they did it. Almost every one drills the students on test items (possible and actual) from September to May.

    I still believe in testing but it’s got to be done a lot better than it is now.

  23. Chris Smyr Says:

    But, again, why should they have to complete a Masters degree before being able to intern? This is the crux of the problem: does the theory and coursework of a Masters degree program translate into a better teacher? I would like to see evidence of that. Logically, I don’t see how extra courses on education theory and implementing theory will translate into better teachers. Teaching requires knowing how to manage behavior, build curriculum, motivate different students with different backgrounds, be strategic with parent contacts, utilize data to inform instruction, etc. etc. etc. Show me the Masters program that would emulate that in a credentialing classroom.

    I definitely think the MAE is something to consider for the teacher who wants to learn more of the theory and how to better implement teaching practices, and the current system is supportive of teachers who chose to get the MAE, but it doesn’t make sense to make this a prerequisite to teach.

    I don’t appreciate you accusing me of being wrong about cheating. You asserted that there is widespread cheating in testing and your evidence for this claim was the “differences in state scores and the scores on the national tests (NAEP)”, which is faulty logic. That’s all I pointed out initially.

    Please provide evidence of the additional claims of “widespread, frenzied cheating”. Using past test documents to inform instruction does not constitute “cheating” in any capacity. “Drilling” is not cheating, although it is a poor method of instruction that only focuses on lower-level learning, not something that will significantly improve test scores.

  24. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    I believe that a teacher should complete a master’s program and have an internship, but that is a matter of opinion. What I really disagree with is the fact that the state establishes criteria for earning a license to teach and then they issue “waivers” and “emergency credentials” when they can’t find enough people to fill their classrooms. Since these classrooms are often in the “inner-cities,” I don’t think it’s right. To me this is a travesty and I don’t want to see it continue. My own sons always had fully qualified teachers so I’d like to see the same for other people’s children. Yes, I do believe coursework and theory help a person to be a better teacher. It certainly made a difference for me, although I agree that on-the-job training is indispensible. But doesn’t that apply to almost any job?

    Drilling on the exact items of a test (whether old or new) invalidates the test. Please ask any testing expert (or testing company) about that. As I said, the differences in the scores of the NAEP and state tests are not proof of cheating but it has raised the suspicions of many people, including me.

    You said, “Your assertion of widespread cheating is without merit.” Isn’t that just another version of “You are wrong about cheating.” Perhaps you have never seen a teacher drill children on the exact items of a test, but surely you must know that this occurs! You must know that there are school people everywhere who are erasing answers and pointing to the correct ones? Why, it’s been in the newspapers -many times!

    I was a witness to widespread, frenzied cheating for many years, so I know that I am correct in stating this, at least for the districts in which I taught. I taught in four different states and test “invalidation” occurred in each of them. My guess is that most non-teachers are unaware of this. Teachers are so used to it that they think it’s funny. I asked one teacher in a prize-winning district how she did it. Her response was “We put a ring of low achievers around one smart kid and pushed all the desks together.” Was this a joke? I’m not sure.

  25. Chris Smyr Says:

    Linda said: “although I agree that on-the-job training is indispensible. But doesn’t that apply to almost any job? ”

    I argue it does not apply in the same way as it does to teaching, as I reasoned in my last comment.

    Linda said: “Drilling on the exact items of a test (whether old or new) invalidates the test.”

    Were the tests “exactly the same”, meaning questions were word-for-word from previous tests? If that is the case, that is the fault of whomever issued the tests, since that obvious flaw introduces many problems with validity. Validity can be protected year-to-year if each year a new version of the test is made that included different possible questions on a number of different topics. “Drilling” from such tests would not invalidate the test, as previous years’ tests can offer a framework in mind of how content might be presented to students and such a framework can be emulated with teacher tests.

    Linda said: “As I said, the differences in the scores of the NAEP and state tests are not proof of cheating but it has raised the suspicions of many people, including me.”

    The differences in scores can be attributed to dozens of different explanations. There are too many alternative hypotheses explaining the difference in data to assume that one single possibility, that there was cheating, deserves merit.

    Linda said: “You said, “Your assertion of widespread cheating is without merit.” Isn’t that just another version of “You are wrong about cheating.””

    No. You assumed cheating with faulty logic, that’s why I stated the assertion was without merit. When I mentioned that, you said I was wrong but are unable to give better evidence for your claim, so whatever.

    You really can’t debate this issue by doling out anecdotal evidence. If you are claiming that testing leads to widespread cheating, produce the actual evidence for the claim. If you are asserting that sometimes, in certain schools, there are incorrect choices made that ruin a test’s validity, fine (although I’d like to see some evidence if you want to define what “sometimes” means), but that doesn’t preclude the usefulness of standardized testing in general.

    A good idea isn’t impervious to flaws, but if its flaws are minor and seldom happen, why trash the entire concept, particularly when the essence of the idea is benign?

  26. john thompson Says:

    OK Chris, I’ll say it in a nurturing way. you wrote, “I do think test score increases stem from the quality of the teacher, as we’re the deciding factor in how much our students learn.”

    Surely you’d like to retract that statement wouldn’t you?

  27. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    Let’s look at this situation from another perspective. Suppose the SAT had many of the same items each year, were left in teachers’ classrooms for a week and were administered by the classroom teacher. What do you think might happen?

    I support standardized testing but I want these tests to be administered in a secure and proper way. The above situation is not acceptable to me. I am not an expert so the only “evidence” I have is what I have seen with my own eyes. Of course, I can’t give you the names of the schools and the teachers involved. However, many experts have written on this topic. Perhaps they can give you the evidence that you want. Refer to the writing of James Popham, professor emeritus of UCLA. If you are a graduate student, ask your professors about this. Read what people like Diane Ravitch have to say about it and talk to elementary school teachers in low-income schools. From what I’ve read, test invalidation is not occurring much at the high school level because (perhaps) older students become witnesses.

  28. Linda/Retired Teacher Says:

    Chris,

    The lightbulb in my head just went on when I read John Thompson’s post.

    When I was a new teacher, my affluent fifth grade students scored above the 90th percentile and I thought I was a natural born, gifted teacher (I had an emergency credential). At my next school I taught very poor children in Cleveland and their scores were below the 10th (Yes, the tenth percentile!). I felt so bad and assumed I was a terrible teacher so I went to grad school and became a reading specialist. Next, I taught in a middle class school in Iowa where my students scored around the 50th. Finally I knew the test scores had little to do with me!!! It took me about five years to realize that. So………You must be a new teacher! Am I right?

  29. Kelly/Preshcool teacher Says:

    Chris,
    I agree with you that teachers should not have to posses a master’s in order to be able to intially start off teaching. I do agree that they should have to further their edudcation to fill in gaps that may have been missed during undergraduate studies. I am a fairly new teacher and have started a master’s program for a state requirement to keep my teaching certificate. Contiuing your education only makes you a better professional because teaching is a profession that is constantly changing. I think there should be a one year student teaching requirement instead of one semester because I found that starting up a year is the most difficult job when you start out. Like any job we have, you get better at it as you perfect your skills and strategies.
    I do not think that standardized test really show you what your students are capable of.

  30. Chris Smyr Says:

    John: Your not-so-subtle snide attitude toward me is perplexing. What are you letting on about? Just say what you wanted to say, or something.

    Linda said: “Suppose the SAT had many of the same items each year, were left in teachers’ classrooms for a week and were administered by the classroom teacher. What do you think might happen?”

    Were the tests identical, and I mean word-for-word, questions simply repeated year after year, then yes, that would be troubling to the test’s validity, but the easy fix to this, as I wrote, is to vary the content assessed and the specifics about it, along with question/answer wording, among other things.

    Your anecdote about how test scores varied as you taught in different schools does not help support your side of this debate. That is an obvious effect of the differences in ability and understanding of students from different communities. There certainly are achievement gaps in this nation that we rightfully recognize. That you would feel bad because your students tested at 10% is understandable, I’d feel bad if my kids didn’t do well either.

    However, in your role as the teacher, you have the power to help your kids increase their scores and increase their chances to do well on such a test. If very poor students in Cleveland test on average at the 10th percentile, it is your duty as their primary educator to get them higher that that, to change the status quo and help them experience success.

    If we are responsible for our students’ learning and desire to learn, and we feel that if we put our hearts into teaching then we will help our students learn better, why then aren’t we also responsible for their improvement on standardized tests?

    Kelly: I totally agree, standardized tests do not really show us all of what students can do. Students who do awful at testing still have the potential to succeed, and their teachers know exactly how intelligent they really are.

    Standardized tests, however, can give some very helpful data to compare our students’ success on tests with others in the school, district, and state. These tests can objectively compare students’ understanding of content matter as well as critical thinking, language fluency, even ability to write essays. They should not be a teacher’s only tool for assessing student learning, yet the data they give is quite useful for informing instruction on a classroom, school, and district level.

  31. john thompson Says:

    Chris,

    I haven’t meant to be hostile or snide. I’ve seen my comments as Old School jabbing an elbow in the ribs, with maybe a little street ball trash talking, but not something dirty like taking out an opponent’s knees.

    I am hostile to the IDEA that the seemless web of knowledge and learning can be cut up into measurable pieces.

    I am not hostile to PEOPLE who use teach-to-the-test methods in their own class.

    I am hostile to people who want to impose data-DRIVEN, as opposed to data-INFORMED, methods into MY class.

    Having come back yesterday from a seminar where the Nobel Prize winner James Heckman, and an incredible variety of business, community and political leaders (though not many educators) have united to use the best social science to invest in kids, I am still not hostile to those who reject social science. (after all, most people in my state reject evolution).

    I am a little bit hostile to the new think tanks that use the latest marketing techniques and data to frame the political debate in a reductionistic way. I am not hostile to TFA, KIPP, or other charters, but neither am I friendly towards the indoctrinating of young educators into the idea that data and expectations are enough.

    I don’t think Adlai Stenvenson was snide either when he said, “I find St. Paul appealing and St. Peale appalling.”

  32. Kelly/ Preschool Teacher Says:

    Chris,
    Thank you for the information about standardized tests. I am still very new to the teaching profession and I have not had the opportunity to see the flip side of the benefits of the results. I just knew during a student teaching experience we spent months teaching to past the test which took out the fun and love of teaching, but I am sure when I move from early childhood education to an upper level I will get more experience with these tests. I just personally know I am a intelligent person and freeze up during tests, which I know is true for students and adults.

  33. Holly/Young Teacher Says:

    Everyone,

    I have been following the debate that has been going on in this blog and have found it very interesting. I am new to teaching but not too new to know what people think of teaching at a career. Many people that I have come to know do not think of teaching as a very professional or complicated career. I live near a college that is known for its teaching program. Many of the freshmen entering the program do not think it is a complicated program (which is why some of them are entering it). Perhaps if there were more rigorous requirements to teach, we would receive the best of the best. I do agree, as many of you have already mentioned, that becoming an effective teacher does require on-the-job-training. However, because of the standards set in place, you could have a teacher nearing retirement and still be an ineffective teacher and he/she has had years of on-the-job-training. Changing the opinion that teaching is an extremely professional career and is in-need of effective teachers and is not willing to except just anyone with a four year degree is the goal.

  34. Natalie Schwartz Says:

    I question whether a fair and practical system for evaluating and rewarding teachers based on performance can be developed. Correlating teacher quality with student achievement seems logical. However, a student’s academic success depends on a variety of factors. Uncooperative parents, unmotivated students, and unsupportive administrators can adversely affect student performance, despite the teacher’s best efforts. In addition, a student’s home life can also play a role in the student’s academic success or failure.

    Another issue to consider is whether school districts in low-income areas will be at a disadvantage when competing for “Race to the Top” grants. Parents in affluent communities can hire tutors and purchase additional study aids to give their children a boost. Some students in low-income areas lack basic school supplies.

    The “Race to the Top” program has the potential to penalize teachers and schools for circumstances beyond their control, even though the intention is to motivate them to succeed.

    Natalie Schwartz
    Author, “The Teacher Chronicles: Confronting the Demands of Students, Parents, Administrators and Society”

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