Good Teachers Matter

This new paper on teacher effects that’s been making the rounds, it’s kind of a big deal.  New York Times writes it up. Two cautions on how far this is ready to go here and here.

109 Responses to “Good Teachers Matter”

  1. John Elligers Says:

    Seems almost impossible to control for non-teacher-controlled variables in calculating the value-added scores. The fact that Teacher A — over several classes or over several years — has higher value-added scores than Teacher B might mean that Teacher A is a more effective teacher or it might mean that one or more of the non-teacher-controlled variables consistently favors Teacher A over Teacher B — i.e., Teacher B has a reputation as being particularly good at classroom management and the principal accordingly assigns more of the disruptive students to Teacher B, or Teacher B speaks passable Spanish, so the principal assigns more of the students from Spanish-speaking homes to Teacher B, or Teacher A has a reputation as an excellent teacher so the concerned/functional parents specifically request Teacher A for their children (who will be more motivated/functional than the average child).

    The reliability of high-stakes-testing/teacher-discharge are questionable. The disadvantages are definite — teaching to the test, narrowing the curriculm, cheating, teacher competition instead of cooperation, discouraging good teachers from teaching problem students or in low SES schools, and, at least occasionally, discharging excellent teachers.

    If student test scores play any role in teacher evaluation, they should be limited to serving as a signal that Teacher X might be an incompetent and/or goof-off teacher who requires closer management examination/monitoring. Any adverse action must be based exclusively on that closer management examination/monitoring, not on the student test scores.

  2. Attorney DC Says:

    Mr. Elligers: Good points. I agree with your examples as to the different types of non-controlled variables present in a typical school. Unlike a scientific study, most (if not all) schools do NOT use random-control methods for assigning students, determining class sizes, assigning subjects, etc…

    It’s usually within the principal’s authority to (for example) assign disruptive students to a particular teacher and to assign the courses that each teacher will teach. For example, one teacher may have two periods with mainstreamed special education students, and another teacher may have no special education students.

    These differences can easily confound any attempt to judge teacher quality by student test scores. In light of the above, I agree with you that test scores should not be used to compare teachers in real schools, where countless variables (such as those mentioned above) will render any comparison meaningless.

  3. Chris Smyr Says:

    John,

    All of the non-teacher-controlled variables you mention should be controlled for in an appropriate model:

    * Disruptive students sent to Teacher B will already include value-added estimates of test score gains lower than a control group

    * Assuming you meant that there is a difference in the average achievement for students from Spanish-speaking homes, this group, too, would lower/raise (depending on your assumption) the value-added estimates for yearly gains

    * If Teacher B’s reputation nets him or her an influx of students from more “functional” families, the value-added estimates would then increase relative to the average

    For all the talk on how “inaccurate” VAM is, or for how it’s purely “theoretical”, I enjoyed reading this:

    But controlling for numerous factors, including students’ backgrounds, the researchers found that the value-added scores consistently identified some teachers as better than others, even if individual teachers’ value-added scores varied from year to year.

    After identifying excellent, average and poor teachers, the economists then set out to look at their students over the long term, analyzing information on earnings, college matriculation rates, the age they had children, and where they ended up living.

    [...]

    Students with top teachers are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers, more likely to enroll in college, and more likely to earn more money as adults, the study found.

  4. TFT Says:

    That is amusing, Chris, especially because the effects are so minute as to be negligible. Perhaps the “study” was not as rigorous as you assume.

  5. David Says:

    “Replacing a poor teacher with an average one would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000…” Seems like a pretty big effect.

    And honestly, longitudinal data on 2.5 million subjects over 20 years and all the control and long term outcome variables you could want, if this isn’t a scare-quoteless study, there aren’t many.

  6. Chris Smyr Says:

    the effects are so minute as to be negligible

    and

    Teachers’ impacts on students are substantial. Replacing a teacher whose true VA is in the bottom 5% with a teacher of average quality would generate lifetime earnings gains worth more than $250,000 for the average classroom.

    Pick one.

  7. TFT Says:

    “$266,000–let’s see, a class of 26-27 would net an additional $10,000 each over a 40 year career…$250 a year per student over a lifetime of work. Hey, that’s over $20 a month! Great news for Netflix.”

    From the NYT comments http://timespeople.nytimes.com/view/user/41414128/activities.html

  8. TFT Says:

    Here’s another, specifically for Chris, it seems:

    “I must say the results don’t seem to support the wildly sensational conclusion that more disruption in the schoolhouse is justified. A “value added’ teacher’s minion earned an additional thousand dollars after 10 years over a toad who had a bad teacher that couldn’t be fired on a whim. The rate enrolled at college was only 1.4% more for the VA students (38.2%) and 36.8% for the Brand X students. And the teen pregnancy rate, excluding pregnancies caused by certified teachers, was 8.1% for the hopeless girls but 7.6% for our shining stars, a difference of 0.5%.”

  9. Art Says:

    Remember that seemingly small effects can have large impacts over the 50 million kids in the public schools. For example, using the authors’ estimates, “deselecting” the poorest five percent of 3.2 million public school teachers would add 40 billion dollars to students’ lifetime earnings, assuming one class per teacher and effects of the same magnitude over all teachers.

  10. Chris Smyr Says:

    TFT,

    First, these estimates are statistically significant over an N of over 2.5 million students, meaning they are nearly guaranteed to be real. You sneeringly referred to them a few times now so I’ll assume you agree with this. Realize that these data are then clear evidence that VAM — even as a single measure — is powerful enough to discern teacher effectiveness, despite its level of imprecision.

    Second, detracting from these results shows you don’t analyze numbers very well. A teen pregnancy percentage change of 0.5% (still real, remember) means that *thousands* of students will have different life trajectories. An additional $10,000 in each student’s lifetime translates into *millions* (and billions, thanks Art) in added productivity. An increase in college attendance rates by 4.7% for half of these students is encouraging, and more so when you consider that it may lead to underestimating the measured gains in yearly earnings.

    Third, realize that these long-term results are the measured impacts of just ONE good teacher. Imagine how much larger the gains could be for students who had relatively great teachers throughout all of the early grades.

  11. Business English Teacher Says:

    Of the many disputes that have frozen contract talks between City Hall and the teachers union, one of the bitterest is merit pay — rewarding individual teachers not for seniority, but for what they achieve in the classroom. Mayor Giuliani has demanded that merit pay be part of any deal, but the teachers resist. The mayor is right to stick to his guns.

  12. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    The good news: All sides seem to be coming to the agreement that excellent teachers matter. I remember reading this many times during my long career. It’s just common sense. Once about thirty years ago I read of a study that said a first grade teacher has a profound effect on a student’s life chances. Since I was a first grade teacher I prayed that I was a very positive influence on my students’ lives.

    For many years it was common knowledge that “anyone” could be a teacher. If you just went to your nearest big city, you could get a job without a credential, advanced training or an advanced degree. This only applied to “inner-cities” as the suburbs usually hired only experienced teachers, or young people who had graduated from their own schools and did student teaching there.

    Teachers have long insisted on hiring only fully credentialed teachers with PROVEN RECORDS OF SUCCESS, especially for the most challenging schools and the most disadvantaged children. Let’s stop the shameful practice of placing the least experienced teachers in the lowest performing schools. With our bad economy we have the opportunity to place experienced people in urban schools. Let’s do it!

  13. TFT Says:

    Who is responsible for the kid’s grades? The kids or the teachers? Or the parents? Or the summer enrichment program the kid attended? Of the car the kid lives in?

    Merit pay is the stupidest idea in the reform movement; it’s been tried and it did nothing. It also makes absolutely no sense to claim that I, a teacher, am responsible for Johnny’s grades. He is, along with his parents.

    Maybe we should give merit pay to good parents?

  14. TFT Says:

    Chris, we don’t even know which districts the data came from. Maybe they came from DC where the cheating scandal has yet to be completely understood. And they use circular logic, claiming students do well due to good teachers, and good teachers clearly make students do well.

    Watch, it will not be accepted into a real peer reviewed journal. They won’t accept it because it’s crap.

  15. Chris Smyr Says:

    TFT, can you respond to the arguments I gave above? Your newest comments are only offering different complaints. They aren’t novel questions, however.

    In response to the causal factors question, the study summarizes:

    We then directly test for selection on unobservables using an approach analogous to Kane and Staiger (2008), but exploiting quasi-experimental variation in lieu of a randomized experiment. Like Kane and Staiger, we find no evidence of selection on unobservables. We therefore conclude that our value-added measures provide unbiased estimates of teachers’ causal impacts on test scores despite the grouping of students on lagged gains documented by Rothstein.

    In response to the merit pay assertion, the study concludes:

    While these calculations show that good teachers have great value, they do not by themselves have implications for optimal teacher salaries or merit pay policies. The most important lesson of this study is that finding policies to raise the quality of teaching — whether via the use of value-added measures, changes in salary structure, or teacher training — is likely to have substantial economic and social benefits in the long run.

    In response to the weird insinuation that the 2.5 million children were actually all DCPS students:

    We address these two issues by analyzing school district data from grades 3-8 for 2.5 million children linked to tax records on parent characteristics and adult outcomes. [...] An important limitation of our analysis is that teachers were not incentivized based on test scores in the school district and time period we study.

    I’ll let you have the peer-reviewed swipe for the moment (hopefully without the notion that NBER is just an empty label), but since you haven’t been able to say much against the study yourself, I think I’ll have to side with the authors, professors at Harvard and Columbia.

  16. Art Says:

    “And they use circular logic, claiming students do well due to good teachers, and good teachers clearly make students do well.”

    This claim is not circular – both clauses assert the same relationship and are testable in the same way.

    With 2.5 million children in the analytic sample, it’s not likely that the study is based on DC (enrollment 45,000).

    Nothing in this study or in the other studies of teacher effects that I am aware of assumes that teachers are the whole and sole causes of children’s achievement. Instead they say that differences among teachers are substantial enough to pay attention to, after controlling for students’ prior achievement and background characteristics such as FRL status and ELL status.

    Finally, Linda commented that it is common sense that excellent teachers matter. But clearly not all educators accept that because we not infrequently see them arguing that the Coleman Report proves that students’ background wholly determines their achievement and schools can’t make a difference (the Coleman Report shows no such thing). We need well-done studies of teacher effects to refute that and to put bounds around how much difference teachers can make, or we risk expecting too little from poor children and minority children and perhaps too much from teachers.

  17. John Elligers Says:

    Chris –

    Re using a value-added model to control for non-teacher-controlled variables –

    As I understand the VAM concept, the school system looks at Student A’s test scores in earlier grades, compares these test scores to some sort of benchmark, and then predicts how Student A would do in the next grade based on how Student A’s earlier grades compared to the benchmark.

    However, this model requires that the school system have test scores for Student A in earlier grades. In many cases, this will not be true — either Student A was in a different school in the earlier grades or did not take standardized tests in the earlier grades.

    More importantly, this model would not capture the effect of bright but disruptive students or of slow but conscientious students on classroom behavior/teacher workload. If Student X is a bright high-scoring student who constantly disrupts instruction, the VAM would over-estimate the positive effect of adding Student X to a class. Conversely, if Student Y is a slow student who usually scores low on standardized tests but is a conscientious student who never disrupts instruction, the VAM would over-estimate the negative effect of adding Student Y to a class. This is not just a theoretical argument. Veteran teachers often comment that adding a few bright but disruptive students — strong but negative role models — to a class can make an otherwise ordinary class a living hell to teach.

    There are probably many other situations where a student’s prior test scores do not accurately predict the effect on teacher workload of adding that student to a class.

    And, even assuming that a VAM could perfectly predict impact on teacher workload, the VAM would still not take into account non-student variables impacting teacher performance — i.e., the teacher’s total student load, number of classes, number of separate preps, whether the teacher taught the class before, extent of administration support (class aides, central office discipline support).

    Too many complicating variables to use student test scores for anything more than a red flag that something might be wrong and might warrant closer management review.

  18. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Art,

    I have never in my life met a teacher that believes a student’s background determines his level of achievement. Why would a person even become a teacher if he believed that? Also, it goes completely against common sense. Is there a person alive who hasn’t seen an individual make a huge success of himself despite a very disadvantaged background?

    The Coleman report concluded that a student’s standardized test results correlated with the socioeconomics of his family. It did NOT mean that the teacher doesn’t count. Who would stay such a thing! Certainly not a teacher!!!

    Teachers have long advocated for excellence in the profession but so many people in our society continue to believe that “anyone” can teach children (but not adults). This is why people without experience or advanced training are still hired to fill “inner-city” classrooms.

    Whether or not this study under question is valid or not, I am not qualified to say. However, common sense should tell us that there are too many variables to be controlled and so the results may or may not give us information we can use. Still, it should go without saying that a teacher “touches the future.” Her influence, like the influence of the parent, goes beyond measure.

    There is one “easy” way to improve teacher quality. Support teachers and their associations’ plan to place a FULLY qualified teacher in every classroom. One way to improve the quality immediately would be to select carefully.

    As to the evaluation of a teacher, it can be done, but obviously not with a ten-dollar group test. You don’t have to be a Harvard professor to understand that.

  19. Chris Smyr Says:

    Another reason why “they cheated!” is an unlikely explanation:

    Finally, in our baseline specifications, we exclude classrooms taught by teachers whose estimated VA falls in the top two percent for their subject (above 0.21 in math and 0.13 in English) because these teachers’ impacts on test scores appear suspiciously consistent with testing irregularities indicative of cheating.

    John,

    The paper addresses how additional years of test data for students increases the discerning power of VAM. There’s also a lot more to VAM than just previous test scores. The paper methodology would answer a lot of your questions, basically all of section 4.

  20. edconsume Says:

    First and perhaps most importantly, just because teacher VA scores in a massive data set show variance does not mean that we can identify with any level of precision or accuracy, which individual teachers (plucking single points from a massive scatterplot) are “good” and which are “bad.” Therein exists one of the major fallacies of moving from large scale econometric analysis to micro level human resource management.

    Second, much of the spin has been on the implications of this study for immediate personnel actions. Here, two of the authors of the study bear some responsibility for feeding the media misguided interpretations. As one of the study’s authors noted:
    “The message is to fire people sooner rather than later,” Professor Friedman said. (NY Times)
    This statement is not justified from what this study actually tested/evaluated and ultimately found. Why? Because this study did not test whether adopting a sweeping policy of statistically based “teacher deselection” would actually lead to increased likelihood of students going to college (a half of one percent increase) or increased lifelong earnings. Rather, this study showed retrospectively that students who happened to be in classrooms that gained more, seemed to have a slightly higher likelihood of going to college and slightly higher annual earnings. From that finding, the authors extrapolate that if we were to simply replace bad teachers with average ones, the lifetime earnings of a classroom full of students would increase by $266k in 2010 dollars. This extrapolation may inform policy or future research, but should not be viewed as an absolute determinant of best immediate policy action.
    This statement is equally unjustified:
    Professor Chetty acknowledged, “Of course there are going to be mistakes — teachers who get fired who do not deserve to get fired.” But he said that using value-added scores would lead to fewer mistakes, not more. (NY Times)
    It is unjustified because the measurement of “fewer mistakes” is not compared against a legitimate, established counterfactual – an actual alternative policy. Fewer mistakes than by what method? Is Chetty arguing that if you measure teacher performance by value-added and then dismiss on the basis of low value-added that you will have selected on the basis of value-added. Really? No kidding! That is, you will have dumped more low value-added teachers than you would have (since you selected on that basis) if you had randomly dumped teachers? That’s not a particularly useful insight if the value-added measures weren’t a good indicator of true teacher effectiveness to begin with. And we don’t know, from this study, if other measures of teacher effectiveness might have been equally correlated with reduced pregnancy, college attendance or earnings.
    These two quotes by authors of the study were unnecessary and inappropriate. Perhaps it’s just how NYT spun it… or simply what the reporter latched on to. I’ve been there. But these quotes in my view undermine a study that has a lot of interesting stuff and cool data embedded within.

    http://schoolfinance101.wordpress.com/2012/01/07/fire-first-ask-questions-later-comments-on-recent-teacher-effectiveness-studies/#comment-1663

  21. Attorney DC Says:

    Having worked as a teacher in a number of different classrooms, I simply have little faith in the idea that teachers are inherently “good” or “bad” absent any control for the myriad variables that influence their teaching experiences, many of which are subjective and not possible to “control” for in any realistic way.

    To give a few examples of these influential variables: (1) One very disruptive student (including a student w/ emotional or learning disabilities) can negatively influence the learning/scores of the entire class. However, a VAM model would expect the class scores to mirror those of the students in prior grades, and would not account for the impact of a disruptive student. (2) One teacher may be assigned three different subjects to prepare each day (for example, 9th grade history, 10th grade history, and geography) while another teacher may only have one subject (for example, only 10th grade history). Guess which teacher will have an advantage in preparing lessons and organizing the classroom, and teaching more effectively?

    My point is simply that without a controlled, random assignment of all students, random assignment of subjects, random assignment of special needs/ELL students, equal support from administrators, front office staff, parents, etc., there is no way that the VAM scores can even approach a true evaluation of the competence of any given teacher; Even with random assignment, there will still be major differences from year to year (for example, one third grade teacher might randomly get the three most disruptive students that particular year). Based on the above, I think it’s ludicrous to start a program of firing teachers based heavily on the test scores of their students that year.

  22. Chris Smyr Says:

    “edconsume”, that was an interesting read. Which part would you like me to correct for you?

    AttorneyDC, you are needlessly moving the goal posts. What do you find incorrect about the study itself? Here is a relevant sentence from section four, something that ought to be compulsory reading before opining on what the methodology got wrong:

    Importantly, because we analyze the data at the school-grade level, we do not exploit information on classroom assignment for this test, eliminating any bias due to non-random assignment of students across classrooms.

  23. TFT Says:

    Eliminating bias is not the same as eliminating or controlling for confounding variables, which VAM is incapable of doing.

    This “study” is mostly nonsense, telling us things we know, and not useful unless you are a spinmeister like Chris.

  24. Chris Smyr Says:

    Specifically what are your qualms with the paper, TFT? And do you have counterarguments for the last bunch of flawed criticisms you leveled?

  25. TFT Says:

    The problem with the paper is that it tells us very little about how we make good teachers and substantiates the fact that poverty is the largest concern when looking for reasons why low SES kids do poorly.

    It also was not peer reviewed before going public, probably because one of the researchers is someone’s tool.

    We can use very little of the information in the study, because nothing school-side is going to be of much significance when it comes to ameliorating the effects poverty has on families.

    This study is another in a long line of studies that claim teachers are all important and families should just be ignored because in America, we don’t give a shit about reality.

    And Matt speaks to these issues: http://shankerblog.org/?p=4708

  26. Chris Smyr Says:

    In other words, you’re faulting the study for irrelevant topics it did not address, like “how we make good teachers”. Fascinating.

    Look up NBER and get a clue as to why it wasn’t officially peer-reviewed before publication. Hint: it’s not because the study is a “study”.

  27. TFT Says:

    No, I am faulting guys like you who use this study to make giant leaps of logic.

    The study helps nobody with anything.

  28. TFT Says:

    Lot’s of excuses why this working paper is useless–it’s not a study, it didn’t intend to address anything meaningful, it’s out of NBER so peers need not look at it, blah blah.

    What did you learn from it, Chris? That good teachers matter? Wow! And that VAM is a dubious way to measure the effectiveness of individual teachers? Wow again. A huge data set does not impress me when the confounding variables weren’t dealt with, because they cant be.

    Poverty is our problem. This paper continues the nonsense that it’s not, but rather it’s teachers who make the big difference, except the study doesn’t show that.

    Like I said, the paper/study/whatever is basically useless in terms of helping struggling students.

    But that wasn’t its purpose, was it?

  29. Chris Smyr Says:

    Lot’s [sic] of excuses why this working paper is useless

    None of which you can adequately argue, as you’ve already shown. Yes, the study effectively ruled out cheating. Yes, the study ruled out classroom assignment bias. No, there are too many students for the data to be based in DC. Yes, it’s an NBER working paper, meaning it was absolutely intended for discussion with their peers (NBER is kind of a big deal, by the way). Even the obligatory link to another blog you presented above agrees that the paper is good at what it sought to analyze.

    What did you learn from it, Chris?

    “Lot’s”! Here are a few takeaways:

    * The results give strong evidence that VAM — even as a single measure — is powerful enough to discern teacher effectiveness. It’s a proof of principle that VAM is accurate both at forecasting average impacts on test scores and long-term benefits to students.

    * We can discuss outliers, but realize that the aggregate results from onward of a million testing data points show that VAM accurately pinpoints differences in average college attendance, earnings, and even rates of teen pregnancy. That there are instances where VAM will be in error does not imply that this happens predominantly, or even often. The data they’ve presented suggests the error due to bias from many outside factors (including family income) is minimal.

    * On that note, the authors openly address the caveats to their results, such as if teachers game the system to inflate test scores. This is one of the reasons that VAM should not be the sole determinant in staffing decisions.

    * If you read deeply into the paper, you’ll learn all about their extensive controls for both observables and unobservables. Their quasi-experimental test is brilliant. Learn how to appreciate good science.

    * Teachers matter! I have no idea why you and others are going soft on this point. There has always been a reoccurring objection to ever (ever!) expect teachers to make student gains in tough placements, that poverty and other cruel societal problems needed to be fixed at once before teachers could matter, as the end of your comment touches on once more. Then a paper like this one comes along and finds that just ONE good teacher will have a lifelong impact in the lives of students. There are numerous roads to take regarding education and socioeconomic reform, but teacher quality is one that we should feel compelled to travel given these data and the relatively easy policy changes that could result in stronger schools.

  30. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Chris, I really don’t think you understand what some of us are saying: Of course, a great teacher matters, of course a great teacher influences a child’s life, of course student test scores might tell us something about the teacher’s abilities. However, it is time to look at the whole landscape of research. There’s a mountain of it that tells us:

    The parent’s influence on the child exceeds that of his teachers, even the best ones;

    Schools with many disadvantaged children usually have more inexperienced teachers than schools with advantaged children;

    Healthy children usually do better in school than unhealthy children.

    Based on what we know, teachers have long advocated for healthcare for all children, well-qualified and successful teachers for low-income schools and out-of-school services for poor students.

    What I’ve said is much easier to understand if you look at specific situations:

    Antonio’s parents are unemployed. When he gets asthma, his parents often keep him at home because they can’t get him to the doctor and cannot afford the medication. Because of this, Antonio misses at least a week of school each month. How can we help Antonio, who is struggling with academics?

    a) Give him an excellent teacher
    b) Provide him with healthcare
    c) Offer him a tutor so he can catch up
    d) All of the above

    Yesterday I received an email from my ten- year -old granddaughter telling me that she got 99% on her geography test, the highest grade in the class.

    Sophia received the high geograpy score because

    a) she has an excellent teacher
    b) she is very interested in travel and is always asking questions about other states and countries
    c) her parents love to travel and have taken Sophia all over the world
    d) all of the above.

    No one is disputing the importance of the teacher. All we are saying is that the research tells us of the tremendous importance of the student himself, as well as the family. If we really want to improve education for the most disadvantaged children, we’ll have to provide him with medical and social supports. This is what successful nations have done, and we can do it too.

    I didn’t give the answers to the above questions because they are obvious. It’s time to accept what we know about education.

  31. Chris Smyr Says:

    If we really want to improve education for the most disadvantaged children, we’ll have to provide him with medical and social supports. This is what successful nations have done, and we can do it too.

    See, this is a great example of what I referenced above: education can’t “really” be improved unless we fix everything else that’s wrong with our society. No, that’s not at all what was shown in the paper. Without giving anything extra to these kids and their families, there was a net positive effect on their lives from one effective teacher. DESPITE the obstacles that are most unfair, a good teacher helped their kids succeed.

    I like the sentiment you offer on this subject, Linda. I think most would agree. There are two big issues with the sentiment, as I’ve continually voiced, however, and they are:

    1) There is no single set of policies that will provide all of the social supports that disadvantaged students lack, and even if there were one already drawn up it is likely not a foreseeable political reality in the near future.

    2) We can choose to pursue school reform regardless of our success in implementing socioeconomic reform, and we have evidence like this paper suggesting school reform could have large net benefits for students

  32. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Chris, your last post (12:57 pm) is a great example of what you do in these discussions. You take what some of us say and then accuse us of saying something else. I can’t decide if you misunderstand, or choose to twist our words rather than agree with them.

    I stated “If we really want to improve education for the most disadvantaged students, we’ll have to provide [them] with medical and social supports. This is what successful nations have done, and we can do it too.”

    To this you responded, “See, this is a great example of what I referenced above: education can’t ‘really’ be improved UNLESS WE FIX EVERYTHING ELSE THAT IS WRONG WITH OUR SOCIETY.”

    Do you really think that is what I said? I think not, but I’m not sure. I will try to state things as clearly as I can:

    It is not reasonable to fix everything that is wrong in a society. No one of normal intelligence would suggest such a thing.

    If we placed an effective teacher in EVERY classroom, that would certainly have a positive impact on the students. Do we need a research paper to tell us that? This is why teachers are advocating for improved training for new teachers. Almost all teachers agree that their first few years were the worst. I know they were for me. By far.

    Teachers are concerned about the achievement of ALL students, even the ones who go to Mexico for three months and the ones who can’t see or hear well. We know we can’t solve all the problems of society, but we can offer supports such as medical care, community schools and parenting classes. There are parents who don’t realize that shaking a baby or exposing him to lead can cause permanent learning problems. Offering these supports are actions that we can take NOW.

    A good teacher IS very important. For many years now, the least experienced teachers have been placed in our most challenging schools. This is something that can be corrected today and without much expenditure. Let’s stop the shameful tradition of placing the least experienced teachers in the most challenging schools.

    In conclusion I want to say:

    Yes, an effective teacher CAN raise the level of achievement for her students. That’s what teachers do!!!!! That said, we can get even better results by providing a good teacher AND the basics (food, medical care, glasses and hearing aides) for our poorest children. Frankly I can’t comprehend why anyone would disagree with this. Other countries similar to us have done it and so can we. Money spent now on children is likely to save billions later on. (I just had a houseguest who has several members of her family who were brought up in abject poverty and little support when they were children. Without exception, every one of these individuals, now adults, is totally dependent on the government for support.)

    In conclusion: I agree that a good teacher can improve student learning but a good teacher plus medical and social supports can do even better. I also believe that it is in our national interest to offer the best possible education to ALL our children.

    I hope you will answer this question: Do you realize that you misinterpreted what I said? Please explain. Thanks.

  33. Chris Smyr Says:

    I misinterpreted nothing, Linda. Recall TFT’s response to the study’s work on identifying a strategy to measure teacher effects: “poverty is our problem.” So no, I’m not twisting anyone’s words; the words are fairly knotted up already. The false dilemma that education can’t be improved until we address poverty is continually implied and asserted.

    Also, there is no effective difference between “fixing everything that is wrong with society” and “providing social and medical supports [that disadvantaged students lack]“. This is because you want supports the likes of which would either not be enough to matter (like parenting classes to suggest not shaking one’s baby) or that are so far removed from political possibility that it would be years before we’d see anything resembling it (providing adequate food, medical care, glasses and hearing aides, along with personal tutors, to every disadvantaged student).

    Yes, that all would be fantastic. Would it be strictly enough to fix all of our educational woes? Maybe and maybe not, but I doubt it (there’s more to the problems than just those listed items). Is it possible to get at least those things going sometime relatively soon? Good question, but doubt it. If, at some point, you want to take the next step and discuss pragmatic ways to achieve these idealistic notions, then do so. It’s a more entrenched problem than I think you give it credit for, however.

    Regardless of the above, my two points in the last comment remain relevant and unaddressed.

    1) There is no single set of policies that will provide all of the social supports that disadvantaged students lack, and even if there were one already drawn up it is likely not a foreseeable political reality in the near future.

    2) We can choose to pursue school reform regardless of our success in implementing socioeconomic reform, and since we have evidence like this paper suggesting school reform could have large net benefits for students, we should feel compelled to do so.

  34. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:
    January 10th, 2012 at 5:56 pm
    Chris, your last post (12:57 pm) is a great example of what you do in these discussions. You take what some of us say and then accuse us of saying something else. I can’t decide if you misunderstand, or choose to twist our words rather than agree with them.

    Linda, by now I’d think you know that Chris does not misunderstand.

  35. Attorney DC Says:

    Linda: I appreciate your comments, even if some people don’t seem to get them :) Keep up your advocating for children and their teachers!

  36. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Chris, I was referring to MY post, not someone else’s!!!!! Here it is again in the most simple English:

    Education can be improved for the impoverished child by schools alone, but we will do much better if we provide that child with medical care and some social supports.

    Phillip: Yes. I should have known better.

  37. Chris Smyr Says:

    Read my 2nd paragraph above, Linda, for a direct response to your silly semantics game. The first paragraph was another example of why I initially brought up the trend I see played out here constantly. Attorney DC did it perpetually in a few past threads as well, so it’s great to see him drop in now, as if on cue!

    Also: “Education can be improved for the impoverished child by schools alone” is vastly different from “If we really want to improve education for the most disadvantaged children, we’ll have to provide him with medical and social supports.” Do you understand why? As the paper suggests, we didn’t have to provide these supports to see a good teacher make a difference. And since you have never had a good response to the above points I’ve made concerning your penchant for proposing wishes as policy, the difference is even clearer.

  38. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Chris,

    Now I understand why you want some of us banned from this blog. We are WAY over your head! You have no idea what we are saying, possibly because you are inexperienced. As for my “policies,” haven’t you heard of traveling nurses for newborns, parent ed classes, school clinics, preschool and summer camp? These programs are spreading across the nation as more and more citizens understand the importance of supporting our neediest children.

    (Hint: In the poorest of classrooms, many, if not most, of the children are well-cared-for by their parents. Perhaps three or four out of twenty are in desperate need of medical and social supports. Every teacher knows that we wouldn’t have to help “every disadvantaged student.” In every post, you tell us that you don’t even know the basics. )

  39. Chris Smyr Says:

    Linda,

    None of those examples have all that much to do with, paraphrasing, “providing adequate food, medical care, glasses and hearing aides, along with personal tutors, to *every* disadvantaged student who needs it.” For example, you are arguing in an alternate version of reality if you think parent ed classes will do much of anything to fix dysfunctional families. And of all the many varied hardships that poverty forces on a child, I’m shocked that summer camp was on the list of empowering social supports that I wouldn’t understand, being “inexperienced” and all. How many traveling nurses should we train again to reach every disadvantaged newborn? You’ve also never bothered to discuss how politically possible it is to fund all of these things for every disadvantaged child and family who needs it.

    I didn’t think it possible, but this part was even sillier:

    “Every teacher knows that we wouldn’t have to help every disadvantaged student. Perhaps three or four out of twenty are in desperate need of medical and social supports.”

    Well that totally factual statistic makes everything *so* much easier, as it will cut your nonexistent estimates for funding and (wo)manpower by 3/20ths! Of course, by definition, every disadvantaged youth requires a share of these supports (like summer camp!) to share a true equality of opportunity for a good education with that of our more advantaged students, but definitions are likely not included in these basics you reference.

    Now that I’ve humored you with this incredibly productive conversation on socioeconomic reform, will you or will you not directly address the points I’ve raised in the past 3 comments? I’ll even rewrite the two main ones again:

    1) There is no single set of policies that will provide *all* of the social supports that disadvantaged students lack, and *even if* there were one already drawn up it, enacting and funding these policies is likely not a foreseeable political reality in the near future.

    2) We can choose to pursue school reform regardless of our success in implementing socioeconomic reform, and since we have evidence like this paper suggesting school reform could have large net benefits for students, we should feel compelled to do so. (You already recently wrote that “education can be improved for the impoverished child by schools alone,” but I’d just like a simple answer in the affirmative to clarify, for future reference of course.)

  40. Chris Smyr Says:

    and since we’re being super focused on correct numbers here, I should have wrote “down to 3/20ths of the nonexistent estimates” rather than “by 3/20ths”

  41. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    1. I never said anything about providing ALL the social supports a disadvantaged student might lack. Your response is just another example of your style of arguing. The more frustrated you become, the more you make up points that we’ve supposedly written.

    2. Research has consistently informed us that while schools alone can improve the education of the impoverished child to a limited extent, the improvements are often negligible and far below that of the privileged child. There is some indication that the poorest of the poor are often left out of these efforts at reform and don’t improve at all. This is not acceptable to many of us.

    When you are a parent you will discover that your child learns a great deal out of school. Activities such as summer camp and science workshops at the local museum are powerful learning experiences and very likely among the many reasons why advantaged children do so much better in school. The very fact that you would scoff at “summer camp” speaks volumes.

    Please join teachers and other concerned citizens in demanding educational equity for American children.

  42. Dr. Beverly Anderson Says:

    I grew up in the 7th Ward of New Orleans in the 1950s, and the success that my fifth grade class had throughout the members’ lifetimes is astounding – our class included:

    9 future teachers and administrators;
    a future LA State Legislator;
    2future judges;
    and a future Secretary of Louisiana Department of Health and Human Services/Deputy Medical Director for the City of New Orleans

    to name a few. I think that our fifth grade teacher, who was very inspiring to me, influenced our success, but so did our parents, principles, and so many others. Our community heavily impacted our schools, and vice versa. There are just so many factors that go into success.

  43. Chris Smyr Says:

    1) No, you just want to provide them with ones that wouldn’t much matter, like summer camp. And not to *all* the disadvantaged children, surely, as they are not disadvantaged enough! However, it seems you agree with this point as I wrote it down above, so let’s move on.

    2) See, here it crops up again:

    the improvements are often negligible and far below that of the privileged child. There is some indication that the poorest of the poor are often left out of these efforts at reform and don’t improve at all.

    This is again different in meaning from what you just previously wrote out, that “education can be improved for the impoverished child by schools alone.” The results the study found, for example, were absolutely not negligible. TFT tried to argue this upthread but quickly changed his tune: small percentages and numbers mean a helluva lot when you bring them to scale. Also, however far below they were a certain point may be offset by the fact that they only calculated the effect of *one* good teacher. And there was NO evidence that they left out “the poorest of the poor” in their data set of 2.5 million students.

    Really, I don’t care at this point to talk about poverty further with you. Yes, I want it to go away, and yes I want disadvantaged students to have access to more social services than they do currently. BESIDES THE POINT, specifically the two main points I’ve made above, both of which you somewhat agree with but won’t say directly.

    Please join teachers and other concerned citizens in demanding realistic and evidence-based educational reform for all American children.

  44. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    We agree! It’s time for the educational community and all citizens to demand realistic and evidence-based educational reform for all American children.

    We’ve known for over fifty years that the effects of poverty (not poverty itself) have a huge impact on learning. The recent PISA scores reinforce tons of research on this topic. In regard to PISA, American children of privilege outscored their foreign counterparts, even in the very successful nations such as Finland and Canada. However, children of poverty in our country scored quite low, emphasizing the huge achievement gap that exists in the United States. This is what we know.

    Are you a middle income American? If so, look at your relatives, friends and neighbors. Do their children attend MIT, UC Berkeley and Brown? Do they become educators, physicians, attorneys and businessmen? Can most of these middle class kids compete with anyone in the world? Now look at the children of the neighborhood gardeners and cleaning ladies. How about their kids? Can you see the difference for yourself? Yes, it’s very obvious for those who take a moment to look.

    We know the research. Once we act on it, we’ll see some real improvements in the educational achievement of our poorest students. Other countries have made a huge difference for their impoverished children, and so can we. Yes, “schools alone” can help (That’s what schools do!) but we can do better. Please join social context educational reform.

  45. edconsume' Says:

    Chris Smyr Says:
    January 8th, 2012 at 11:59 pm
    “edconsume”, that was an interesting read. Which part would you like me to correct for you?

    “Chris Smyr” how about all of it?

    I realize how hard it is to suffer fools here, but I hope you don’t carry the chip on your shoulder outside this forum.

  46. Chris Smyr Says:

    The problem (one of the many) is that your prescribed vision of education reform must include an idealistic component of poverty reform, evidenced by your admission that you agreed with what I said, demanding education reform, and then proceeded to blather on incessantly about poverty again. This is all notwithstanding the painfully real criticisms that can be leveled at your notions, as I’ve done too much of already.

    Education reform can happen, should happen, and will likely have net positive benefits for all students, regardless of how we actually choose to ameliorate the effects of poverty. My main points 1 and 2 above, I reference again, are critical for understanding this.

  47. Chris Smyr Says:

    edconsume’ [sic?],

    i will gladly if you are interested in responding. many of the points can be currently found in this thread, but you didn’t seem interested to respond then.

  48. TFT Says:

    I didn’t change my tune, Chris. The results are useless when trying to decide how best to help our most impoverished kids, the ones who score low on tests, and the impetus for all this reform nonsense.

    The paper tells us nothing we don’t already know. And yes, until we deal with poverty, nothing you try will help because it is poverty that must be overcome, not a lack of time spent in class and not all those crappy teachers that are presumably responsible for the blight of generational poverty, or something.

  49. Chris Smyr Says:

    You implied the study’s results were negligible, and you were corrected. That was what I was referencing.

    And thank you for reiterating the “education can’t be fixed until we fix poverty!” refrain. Linda seemed to think before that such an argument is never made here, except for my “twisting words” and what not.

  50. TFT Says:

    Chris, the effects of poverty show up most vividly in children, who, in America, can be found most days in schools in the care of their teachers.

    You choose to believe the low test scores are due to the schools/teachers, but you’d be wrong; it’s the stifling effects of poverty that does it.

    The findings are negligible, given they don’t control for the myriad confounding variables that can never be controlled for.

    You, with your limited experience and silver spoon, have no idea about reality, much like the “researchers” who wrote the paper.

  51. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Because of the very high correlation between poverty and low academic achievement, it is reasonable to expect that we won’t see a significant improvement in education for the poor until the rate of poverty is reduced. Again, the data is there if we care to acknowledge it.

    That said, there are many impoverished children who get a good education with the help of parents, teachers and other mentors, as pointed out by Dr. Beverly Anderson, in the above post. These individuals are all around us and likely involved in these online discussions.

    For a touching tribute to the power of one person to enhance the life chances of another, read “The Invisible Thread” by Laura Schroff. It’s the story of an affluent executive who stops to assist a poor child and ends up being his close friend. Both the benefactor and the child (now an adult) gain much from their friendship.

    No, poverty is not destiny, but some have gone in the other direction to say that it doesn’t matter. Sadly, it just isn’t so.

  52. Chris Smyr Says:

    You choose to believe the low test scores are due to the schools/teachers, but you’d be wrong; it’s the stifling effects of poverty that does it.

    Where did I say that poverty has nothing to do with low test scores? And why are you completely unable to respond to what I am explicitly writing here versus what you keep imagining?

    The findings are negligible, given they don’t control for the myriad confounding variables that can never be controlled for.

    *Which* variables? I’ve replied to this vague pseudo-criticism several times now. Did you bother to read up on their methodology?

    Because of the very high correlation between poverty and low academic achievement, it is reasonable to expect that we won’t see a significant improvement in education for the poor until the rate of poverty is reduced.

    Correlations may afford us expectations, but they certainly can’t rule out causal factors. Here, you’re convinced that poverty absolutely causes poor educational outcomes, but you’re not giving enough attention to the possibility that poor educational opportunities *also* drive these effects of poverty (poorly educated people pigeonholed into lower-paying jobs without healthcare, etc.). This is a crucial point to understand. If there were damning evidence that teachers could do *nothing* to help impoverished children succeed, you would finally have a point. HOWEVER, since we’re in agreement that teachers matter and, in your words, “education can be improved for the impoverished child by schools alone,” and studies like the one originally discussed in this thread further demonstrate the potential good teachers can have, my main points #1 and #2 remain unopposed.

  53. TFT Says:

    Chris, the effects of poverty strifle kids. We know it, it’s been researched and it is really the only correlate we have to school achievement.

    Your argument, and the arguments of reformers, is that poverty has nothing to do with it, or we won’t be ameliorating it any time soon, so we might as well fuck around the margins, which this paper shows does something, but very little, and we don’t really know what it is.

    There is no science or study that can explain away the stifling effects of poverty unless one uses tortured logic and chooses to ignore reality and the perceptions of professionals on the ground, or better yet, make poverty irrelevant by showing that a good teacher is good for kids. That’s not much of a surprise, and I am not sure we need 3 economists to tell us so. And it says nothing about the staggering and stifling effects of poverty that NO teacher can overcome.

    Poverty is why we have low test scores. Poverty is NOT a solely a measure of income, so stop with the poverty=poor nonsense, and let’s be mature educated pros and refer to low SES, which is what we all mean when talking about poverty’s effects of children.

    The reformers (Chris too) would have you believe you can just as easily educate Anferney who lives in his car with his drug addict mother as it is to educate Chris, an affluent, privileged white kid from means. Who’s kidding whom?

    Chris, do us all a favor and get a job arguing, like on TV or something.

  54. Chris Smyr Says:

    Chris, the effects of poverty strifle [sic] kids.

    True, depending on what you mean by “strifle”/stifle.

    Your argument, and the arguments of reformers, is that poverty has nothing to do with it, or we won’t be ameliorating it any time soon, so we might as well fuck around the margins, which this paper shows does something, but very little, and we don’t really know what it is.

    First part is wrong, as I never said “poverty has nothing to do with it”.

    Second part is true, we won’t be able to fix the effects of poverty anytime soon scaled in any way relevant to the total population of disadvantaged students out there. It’s not “fuck[ing] around the margins”, however, to suggest teachers matter and can make a big difference in every student’s life. It’s not “very little”, either, as was pointed out to you already. Maybe it’s “very little” relative to the large achievement gaps that exist, but recall that we’re discussing just the impact of one good teacher. It might be very much the opposite of “very little” if we pushed for a highly effective teacher in every classroom.

    There is no science or study that can explain away the stifling effects of poverty unless one uses tortured logic and chooses to ignore reality and the perceptions of professionals on the ground, or better yet, make poverty irrelevant by showing that a good teacher is good for kids. That’s not much of a surprise, and I am not sure we need 3 economists to tell us so. And it says nothing about the staggering and stifling effects of poverty that NO teacher can overcome.

    Well, scientists have these things called “controls” that we sometimes use, on occasion, to elucidate cause and effect. When poverty is “controlled for”, through careful analysis, it was shown that, of the millions of students in an urban school district, good teachers mattered. They may not have overcome all of the “staggering and stifling effects of poverty”, but they had a positive effect on their students’ lives nonetheless. Such success should rightfully be seen as convincing rationale for advancing ed reform in a way to further strengthen schools. Is that wrong? What do you have against pushing for more of these impacts? Is *some* progress really that bad?

    Poverty is why we have low test scores. Poverty is NOT a solely a measure of income, so stop with the poverty=poor nonsense, and let’s be mature educated pros and refer to low SES, which is what we all mean when talking about poverty’s effects of children.

    I don’t see how the definitions are relevant to the discussion, although poverty does indicate an inability to afford basic needs (that’s a cute equality you gave, though). My note to Linda seems relevant here: “Here, you’re convinced that poverty [or low SES!] absolutely causes poor educational outcomes, but you’re not giving enough attention to the possibility that poor educational opportunities *also* drive these effects of poverty [or low SES] (poorly educated people pigeonholed into lower-paying jobs without healthcare, etc.).”

    The reformers (Chris too) would have you believe you can just as easily educate Anferney who lives in his car with his drug addict mother as it is to educate Chris, an affluent, privileged white kid from means.

    That’s also never been argued. Funny how you were just reminding us to be “mature educated pros”.

  55. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    I never said that “poverty absolutely causes poor educational outcomes.” Anyone who has ever read a biography knows that is untrue.

    The fact that you often misquote us suggests that even you know your arguments are weak. You are basically arguing against giving the poor kid a pair of eyeglasses. Why?

  56. Chris Smyr Says:

    *Averages*, Linda. You very specifically asserted that poverty is the cause for poorer educational outcomes, and we are obviously discussing averages. I didn’t misquote anything last time, either, which you also didn’t acknowledge. Now please do go ahead and continue to ignore the thrust of the comment you are currently responding to:

    “[...] but you’re not giving enough attention to the possibility that poor educational opportunities *also* drive these effects of poverty (poorly educated people pigeonholed into lower-paying jobs without healthcare, etc.). This is a crucial point to understand. If there were damning evidence that teachers could do *nothing* to help impoverished children succeed, you would finally have a point. HOWEVER, since we’re in agreement that teachers matter and, in your words, “education can be improved for the impoverished child by schools alone,” and studies like the one originally discussed in this thread further demonstrate the potential good teachers can have, my main points #1 and #2 remain unopposed.”

  57. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    If you need a study to demonstrate “the potential good teachers can have” you are worse off than I thought. You might also be interested in the potential that good doctors can have and the potential that good engineers can have and the potential that good plumbers can have.

    The fact that you did not answer my question proves that your main points #1 and #2 have been proven incorrect.

    (Just teasing. Don’t do anything rash.)

  58. Chris Smyr Says:

    Well, in this very thread we have people like TFT who repeatedly state things such as, “until we deal with poverty, nothing you try will help because it is poverty that must be overcome.” So teachers only *sometimes* matter in *certain* contexts for some people. Crazy, huh?

    And yes, you are just teasing. You’ve said very little to counter my arguments.

  59. Katharine Beals Says:

    Do those who disagree with Chris think we should:
    1. Not use valued-added assessment in assessing teachers
    and
    2. Not try to fill as many teaching slots as possible with teachers with the highest value-added records?

  60. TFT Says:

    1) Correct. They are erroneous.
    2) See #1.

  61. TFT Says:

    Teachers always matter, just less than poverty. Thanks for all the [sic]s, you smarmy punk.

  62. Chris Smyr Says:

    Response required, TFT:

    eduwonk.com/2012/01/10047.html/comment-page-2#comment-237284

  63. Chris Smyr Says:

    Teachers always matter, just less than poverty.

    and

    until we deal with poverty, nothing you try will help because it is poverty that must be overcome.

    Pick one.

  64. Education Magazine Says:

    Yeahhhh, teachers always matter…:(

  65. TFT Says:

    They aren’t mutually exclusive.

  66. TFT Says:

    Like hospice care, they can make your death more peaceful, but you’re going to die.

    Sure, we can spend time and money developing more and “better” teacher evaluations, but the impoverished kids don’t really care and it won’t help them. They need food and medicine and a teacher evaluation won’t feed them or medicate them.

  67. TFT Says:

    And, Chris, your link isn’t working.

  68. TFT Says:

    About your required response, reread yours and notice how you must guess, assume and figure that you’re right because facts to support your claim don’t exist.

    The 3 econs claim they controlled for certain variables. They didn’t tell us which ones (there are literally thousands) nor did they tell us how.

    You have faith in the paper, for reasons unknown. I and many others think the paper was bought and elucidates nothing we didn’t already know and provides no new information that can be used close the gap,m which is why we’re all talking about ed reform, right?

    And, punk, when you see a typo that includes adjacent letter on a qwerty keybord, you can assume it was fat fingering and that whoever is writing to you doesn’t think you need each typo to be fixed. That you feel the need to [sic] so much I think is evidence you’re a bit out of your depth.

  69. Chris Smyr Says:

    They aren’t mutually exclusive.

    They really are. There is a problem if you can’t comprehend this. If teachers truly matter in every context, then “teacher quality” is one such variable we can alter in the education equation. If “nothing [we] try will help” until we “overcome” poverty, then “teacher quality” is not one such variable we can alter.

    Which is it?

    Sure, we can spend time and money developing more and “better” teacher evaluations, but the impoverished kids don’t really care and it won’t help them.

    Here again the teachers-don’t-matter sentiment pops up, as you suggest that impoverished kids wouldn’t benefit from better teachers. But they would! Evidence speaks louder than pained analogies.

    And, Chris, your link isn’t working.

    Works fine. Copy and paste it into your browser.

    reread yours and notice how you must guess, assume and figure that you’re right because facts to support your claim don’t exist.

    What an awkward way to evade my counterarguments.

    The 3 econs claim they controlled for certain variables. They didn’t tell us which ones (there are literally thousands) nor did they tell us how.

    This is telling, as it’s obvious now that you didn’t read up on the methodology.

    I and many others think the paper was bought

    Yes, conspiracy theories run deep in education.

    And, punk [...]

    Ah, is this a professional term shared between one “mature educated pro” to another?

  70. TFT Says:

    The methodology was to use someone else aggregated data and then surmise.

    And they aren’t mutually exclusive. The effect of the teacher, though always present, is a pittance compared to the effect of the life at home, which is also always present. One has a stronger effect than the other, but both exist.

    And, you are a punk, not a pro, so we aren’t talking “one “mature educated pro” to another,” we are talking one pro to a punk.

  71. Chris Smyr Says:

    The methodology was to use someone else [sic] aggregated data and then surmise.

    At some point you ought to admit that you haven’t read the paper, or at least haven’t read for understanding.

    The effect of the teacher, though always present, is a pittance compared to the effect of the life at home, which is also always present. One has a stronger effect than the other, but both exist.

    Simply put, this suggests that “teacher quality is one such variable we can alter in the education equation” to improve outcomes. Right? So what you said earlier, about “nothing [we] try will help,” is then false. There *are* approaches that we can try that will help. We need to work on improving teacher quality concurrently with efforts to, somehow, “overcome” poverty.

    You also keep wanting to make this really inane comparison between the impacts of a great teacher (as indicated in this study, for example, which you haven’t effectively rebutted) and the soul-crushing effects of poverty on some families. Not only is it absurd that anyone could look at the study’s results and consider them “a pittance”, but comparing these to the impacts of poverty, knowing full well we haven’t much of a chance at all in removing them anytime soon? That is faulty logic, akin to the eternal false dilemma of ed reform versus socioeconomic reform.

    And as I said already to Linda and yourself (which you both ignored),

    “you’re not giving enough attention to the possibility that poor educational opportunities *also* drive these effects of poverty (poorly educated people pigeonholed into lower-paying jobs without healthcare, etc.). This is a crucial point to understand. If there were damning evidence that teachers could do *nothing* to help impoverished children succeed, you would finally have a point. HOWEVER, since we’re in agreement that teachers ["always"] matter, and studies like the one originally discussed in this thread further demonstrate the potential good teachers can have, my main points #1 and #2 remain unopposed.”

    And since no one has offered a rebuttal to my two main points on the matter, I’ll just refer to them again:

    1) There is no single set of policies that will provide *all* of the social supports that disadvantaged students lack, and *even if* there were one already drawn up it, enacting and funding these policies is likely not a foreseeable political reality in the near future. [Even a partial list of supports would be unlikely, or too small to have any real effect. Therefore, continuing to demand we "overcome" poverty before doing anything else worthwhile will likely have us sitting on our hands for years.]

    2) We can choose to pursue school reform regardless of our success in implementing socioeconomic reform, and since we have evidence like this paper suggesting school reform could have large net benefits for students, we should feel compelled to do so.

  72. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Chris,

    You state that I ignored your points, yet I answered over and over again. Here is my response once again, in the most direct way I can manage:

    1. Jose has asthma and misses a lot of school. Research and common sense tell us that his school achievement will improve if we can provide him with healthcare. That said, IT IS LIKELY TRUE THAT WE CANNOT OVERCOME POVERTY IN THE NEAR FUTURE, IF EVER. However, we know that we can alleviate some of the effects of poverty and that doing so will likely help poor children do better in school.

    2. If Jose’s asthma is not addressed, WE CAN STILL CHOOSE TO PURSUE SCHOOL REFORM REGARDLESS OF OUR SUCCESS IN IMPLEMENTING SOCIOECONOMIC REFORM. However, the research tells us that Jose will not make as much progress if we ignore his basic needs.

    I just saw a very touching “thank you” from Japan regarding the help they received after the earthquake and Tsunami. (See You Tube “A Message to Your From the People of Japan: We Will Always Remember You.”) Special credit was given to American teacher Taylor Anderson for leading her children to safety before going to her apartment and losing her life to the Tsunami. Ms. Anderson, like so many teachers everywhere, had the wisdom to know that THE HEALTH AND SAFETY OF HER STUDENTS WERE NUMBER ONE. All good teachers and parents know this. Chis, you will know it too when you become a parent. Please join teachers in fighting for social justice for all American children. Thank you.

  73. Chris Smyr Says:

    You state that I ignored your points, yet I answered over and over again.

    When you responded before you avoided the actual ideas completely, just like now:

    However, we know that we can alleviate some of the effects of poverty [like Jose's asthma with healthcare] and that doing so will likely help poor children do better in school.

    Healthcare costs MONEY, Linda. It requires POLITICAL WILL, Linda. We can readily offer NEITHER.

    However, the research tells us that Jose will not make as much progress if we ignore his basic needs.

    And the research also tells us that students like Jose can still make progress regardless of whether or not healthcare becomes more affordable. If you look at this study, for example, the net gains from one teacher were pretty substantial.

    However, the research does not tell us which is and is not the absolute causal factor of the other, living in poverty or poor educational outcomes, but there’s a good chance that at least improving educational opportunities will later have larger societal benefits for impoverished families.

  74. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Chris, you keep saying the same thing over and over, refusing to move an inch. When you imply your agreement, you just skip to another point (“Healthcare costs money.” Well, yes.)

    As I said last year, you remind me of my younger son, who would never move an inch in his agruments. If you said, “It is night” he would say “No, it’s day” and give you the “reasons.” He went on to become a lawyer and I suggest that occupation to you as well. (With apologies to Attorney DC and Labor Lawyer)

  75. Chris Smyr Says:

    I haven’t “moved an inch” because you haven’t given a reason to do so. I’m saying the “same thing over and over” because not once has there been a decent rebuttal given to these arguments. By the way, this is not a discussion that has only recently cropped up; I can find instances of these arguments in other threads over the last couple years, as well. They weren’t refuted then, either.

  76. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    I am not rebutting your arguments. I am agreeing with them and adding more.

    You are saying:

    “Jose can do better in school if we improve school alone” and I am saying, “Yes, Jose can do better if we just improve school alone but he can do even better if we help him with his asthma.”

    Do you understand what I am saying?

  77. Chris Smyr Says:

    I am not rebutting your arguments.

    Great, so then you should understand the pointlessness of asking me if I agree that helping Jose with his asthma will help him become a better student. I’ve answered this a dozen times, paraphrased: “Yes! Now what?”

    You then should also understand the frustration involved when people like TFT trivialize what good schools and teachers can do to help all students — even the neediest — with this ridiculous notion that “until we deal with poverty, nothing [we] try will help”. Or when people say, like you did earlier in this thread, “If we really want to improve education for the most disadvantaged children, we’ll have to provide him with medical and social supports,” which seemed to also imply that school reform could do no real good on its own. Recall that was what I found initially contentious.

    If, however, you agree with my main points, then great — let’s all join together in advocating for authentic and pragmatic school reform grounded in research suggesting that great teachers benefit students and their future families in many ways (obviously) along with other efforts to move toward social justice.

  78. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Amen!

  79. TFT Says:

    But what about Jose?

  80. TFT Says:

    “we are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”

    Guess who.

  81. TFT Says:

    No, Henry George.

  82. EdOutsider Says:

    Chris,

    I’m glad you are on this blog everyday fighting so aggressively for reform and, along with it, a more objective and scientific way of looking at K-12.

    Every time an education protectionist (those opposed to transparency, accountability) writes something online for the purpose of keeping their monopoly on K-12…there should be a cost; there should be a rebuttal.

    I think a big piece of this disconnect/conflict is generational. The majority of the young teachers I know believe in holding schools and teachers accountable for educating children. We are tired of the constant complaining and entitlements (at our expense) of older teachers.

  83. EdInCider Says:

    Ditto.
    These old teachers only care about their pension and keeping tenure.
    As Professor Eric Hansuk has pointed out, if we could fire 10% of our teachers, even our special education students would outperform Shanghai, Finland and Korea.

  84. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    The New York Times Revisits the study

    Professor Chetty said it was possible that in high-stakes conditions the usefulness of value-added ratings could be eroded significantly

    While it is impressive for its scope and creativity, there is a major caution: it is largely based on test scores from the 1990s, that low-stakes era.

    “It is a key limitation of the study,” Raj Chetty of Harvard, one of the three researchers, acknowledged in an interview
    Page 5: “An important limitation of our analysis is that teachers were not incentivized based on test scores in the school district and time period we study.”

  85. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    “These old teachers only care about their pension and keeping tenure.”

    Need we say any more about why our educational system is less than stellar? If I could say only one thing about the failures of education in our country it would be this:

    A significant number of Americans do not respect or value the work that schoolteachers (mainly women) do.

    The problem that we have is cultural and that’s a difficult thing to change. Fortunately some of our journalists are waking up and starting to ask “Can this be true?” or “Does this make sense?” Thank you to Michael Winerip of the New York Times and other excellent journalists who are questioning some of the incredibly ridiculous claims of educational “reformers.” Soon this period that we are in will be known as The Stupid Period in American education and will be regarded as an unfortunate consequence of the Great Recession.

  86. Attorney DC Says:

    Linda: Very well said. Having worked as an attorney and as a teacher (mainly working w/ low-income students), I am amazed by how many attorneys (and other professionals I know) think that teaching is “easy” work.

    I can attest that teaching low-income high school students (who have many socio-economic problems) is MUCH harder than working as a professional in a corporate office building. Obviously, there are exceptions here and there, but fore the most part, teachers who work in low-income schools have a really tough job — much tougher than many of the corporate suits realize.

    Non-teachers often don’t understand or respect the amount of blood, sweat and tears that goes into teaching in a low-income school. It’s not “easy” – It’s a difficult job that should garner the respect of others in society.

  87. arotherham Says:

    OK, before this gets out of hand I should point out that in this comment thread “PhillipMarlowe,” “EdInCider,” “edconsume”, and “Crakhaus” are the same poster.

    I have a policy of not revealing the identities of commenters who choose to post anonymously but within the bounds of the comment policy here. However, out of respect for others who take the time to post their views and debate in this space I want to make you aware that these handles are being used by one person.

  88. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Thanks, Attorney DC. My husband, who was a university professor, helped me in my first grade classroom after retirement. He said it was the hardest job he ever had and marveled at the amount of work that went into it. He was also shocked at how expensive it was for me to keep my classroom equipped with the latest books and materials. If I wanted “merit pay” I could assign it to myself by not spending my own money.

    There is “good” news for those of you who show such profound disrespect for the service provided by our nation’s teachers:

    Oldtimers like me have retired and the baby boomers, the last of the women without other options, are now retiring in droves. I can’t think of a single person under 30 who is in K-12 or preparing to enter the field. All the well-educated children of my friends, relatives, and neighbors have entered other fields. Women, who in the old days would have become teachers, are now in the same jobs as men. They are college teachers (teaching adults is valued in our country) engineers, lawyers, businessmen, computer analysts and so forth. So now the field is open to you young people, who are so much smarter than us Old Goats. (Can’t criticize too much because I also knew everything when I was young.)

    Here is my prediction: If the bad economy continues, desperate school districts will find a way to get rid of older, more expensive teachers and yes, they will be able to pick and choose from among talented applicants. Districts will no longer have to keep everyone who can control a class.

    But if the economy improves and young people continue to look to other occupations, there will be the biggest teacher shortage in history. This is already being predicted for California. And the captive women will no longer be there to fill “inner-city” classrooms. I hope I live to see it.

  89. Chris Smyr Says:

    I have a reply almost ready to that Winerip article, but wanted to first say thanks to Andy for alerting us to the dishonest use of sockpuppets here by PhillipMarlowe.

  90. Chris Smyr Says:

    In response to Winerip’s article on this study:

    The authors VERY CLEARLY state the caveats of their results throughout the paper, and even in the executive summary (obviously the only thing Winerip read–see below), explaining that gaming the tests could result in erroneous VA results. This is not an argument against using VAM, however. The study shows strong evidence that VAM is accurate in a district that did not link VAM to evaluations. VAM itself is not the problem; the problem in tying it to evaluations would be the possibility of compromised data due to cheating and explicitly teaching to the test.

    Instead, this all supports the argument for strengthening test security and for requiring other forms of data on teacher effectiveness, such as observations, to help determine who is a great teacher and who is not. The conclusions also highlighted some future research to help address the question of how tying VAM to evaluations affects the metric. These variables would be very possible to factor in with a proper design; even in this study the authors were able to see that including the top 2% VAM scores (the ones omitted from their data set due to the heightened possibility of cheating) altered their results in ways that did not occur with the bottom 2%, suggestive that they could find effects of cheating on their metric even without observational data.

    Educators are bitterly divided over whether higher test scores will, in fact, equate with lifelong learning.

    And the paper kind of answers this question, so maybe stop pretending this is still a debatable point?

    The study is full of complex statistical analysis. A one-page executive summary makes no mention of what years of test data were used, but I figured it out by working backward.

    Instead of guesstimating, Winerip could have *also* simply glanced at the Data section (like a good journalist) and found the answer, two paragraphs in:

    “These data span the school years 1988-1989 through 2008-2009 and cover roughly 2.5 million children in grades 3-8. […] The data include approximately 18 million test scores. Test scores are available for English language arts and math for students in grades 3-8 in every year from the spring of 1989 to 2009.”

    So, NO, the study didn’t end “when the subjects were 28,” as if they only measured one sample of 2.5 million kids from one grade level. And NO, the study didn’t “use scores [only or mainly] from the 1990s”. Test data linked to college attendance would have utilized 8th grade data from as late as 2005. Same with teenage birth rate, but even later data points are possible (depends on when one files her taxes for the first time). The earnings analysis would also have utilized data from as late as 2004, although to see the increasing average earnings up into the late 20s would have relied more on data from the 1990s. Still, the trend in earnings vs. age echoes the college going data they collected, where students earn less on average in their early 20s due to higher ed. There were no noted divides found between results from 2005 (during the, *cringe*, “Teach-to-Test ” era) and before said era in 1995, either.

    Economists need to find a way to quantify everything.

    As do all scientists. It’s telling that this is phrased in such a negative way.

    It’s maddening that this worthless article was printed in the same section of the NYT as the original article appeared a week ago. As if this journalist’s opinions are equal in stature to the findings of a research study.

    Misinformation is a huge problem in education. At least in the other sciences journalists don’t write about us all that much anymore. Maybe we’re lucky!

  91. EdOutsider Says:

    Chris, I think a reason that Winerip still gets this kind of play in NYT is because there still is a readership hungry for it.

    This isn’t about truth–this is about job and benefits protection. There is solid research showing that the most effective teachers are more likely to leave the profession. Once you reformat teacher pay to align with effectiveness, many of these entitled and angry teachers with seniority are going to face serious salary and benefits reduction. In short, we will soon give teachers a fair market value.

    This scares many of them a great deal. I see it at my school site; expect the backlack to be severe.

    However, this will also bring many of those top 5% into the profession…the single best thing that could happen to students.

  92. Attorney DC Says:

    Thanks, Andy, for keeping tabs on the multiple-names used by the one poster on this blog and alerting us to it. We appreciate it.

  93. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Yes, thank you from me, also.

  94. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    I wish to thank you as well, Andy, for alerting me to this.

    Interesting meeting in DC today. You got Ms. Strauss’s attention.

    Chris, with regards to the NYT, search the characters they’ve had work for them like Walter Duranty, Judith Miller, Jayson Blair, John Vinocur, Shirley Christian, Claire Sterling and Christopher Jones.

  95. PhillipMarowe Says:

    From the executive summary“parents whose children will earn around $40,000 in their late 20s should be willing to pay $10,000 to switch from a below-average to an above-average teacher for one grade, based on the expected increase in their child’s lifetime earnings”

    Does it make sense for parents to spend $10,000 in current funds to ensure that their children can make an extra $8,333 over a life-time?

  96. Chris Smyr Says:

    Phillip, how is it possible you are able to continue posting here after shamefully being outed that you used several sockpuppets to muddle the discussion? Is there no low out of reach for you? It’s bad enough you rarely respond to counterarguments, but you hardly skipped a beat after this latest incident.

  97. Art Says:

    PM … The executive summary on Raj’s page at Harvard differs somewhat from your quote. Instead it says …

    “parents whose children will earn around $40,000 in their late 20s should be willing to pay $10,000 to switch from a below-average to an above-average teacher for one grade, based purely on the present value of the increase in their child’s lifetime earnings.”

    I don’t remember where the $8,333 figure came from, but the study does not say that a one-time investment of 10 grand now buys you a total of 8 grand in the future.

  98. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    Art,
    I quoted the study correctly (even Chris Smyr doesn’t deny that).
    The $8,333 figure comes from this line in the summary:

    ‘Replacing a poor teacher with an average one would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000, the economists estimate.’

    $266,000/$8333 equals 31.9 students per class.
    In order to recoup their investment (ignoring inflation) the class size would need to be 26.6 students.

  99. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    Chris,
    Do you dislike those with Dissociative identity disorder?

  100. Chris Smyr Says:

    It’s an incorrect comparison because the analyses which generated the numbers were different:

    Replacing a teacher whose true VA is in the bottom 5% with one of average quality [, a ~2 SD change,] would generate cumulative earnings gains of $52,000 per student or more than $1.4 million for the average classroom; discounting at a 5% interest rate to age 12 yields a present value gain of more than $250,000 per classroom.

    and

    Discounting future earnings at a 5% interest rate, parents should be willing to pay roughly 25% of their child’s income at age 28 to switch their child from a below-average (25th percentile) to an above-average (75th percentile) teacher [~1.4 SD]. For example, parents whose children will earn around $40,000 in their late 20s should be willing to pay $10,000 to switch [teachers].

    See the differences? In case not: both the change in teacher quality being compared (5% and 50% vs 25% and 75%) *AND* the base earnings estimates (~$20,000 vs $40,000) are different.

    And did you really just suggest that you dishonestly used sockpuppets– and very obviously do not care that it was dishonest — because you have multiple personalities?

  101. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    Also, Art $10,000 in the DC area can you your boy into DeMatha Catholic High School or your girl into Eilzabeth Seton High School for a year, allowing them to have 6~10 teachers and thus increase their earnings by $48,000 to $83,333.

  102. Chris Smyr Says:

    So do you still think that is a valid criticism, Phillip? (Am I still speaking with “Phillip”?)

  103. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    (Am I still speaking with “Phillip”?)
    No, typing with “Phillip”.

  104. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    For David Rubenstein, hitting economic jackpot began with education

    Long before David M. Rubenstein became a billionaire, before he began donating millions to the National Zoo and millions more to help repair the Washington Monument, he was just a kid looking for a way out of his blue-collar neighborhood in Baltimore.

    “I realized that if you’re going to get somewhere in life, you’ve got to be able to communicate what you want,” said Rubenstein, 62. “So I tried very hard to learn how to be a speaker, how to write and talk intelligently, and also read a lot to learn as much about the world as possible.”

    Rubenstein went on to co-found the Carlyle Group, a global asset-management firm based in Washington. Since then, far more attention has been paid to how much money he makes and how much he gives away than on how he developed the drive and talent to succeed.

    So, as the nation’s political leaders wrangle over ways to create more economic opportunity, here’s how one man went about creating his own. Education is the key. For even if the country does become a place where “everybody gets a fair shot,” as President Obama likes to say, it won’t amount to much if you don’t know how to shoot.

    “I tended to do schoolwork by myself and didn’t need a lot of help,” Rubenstein recalled. “My parents would say, ‘If you work hard enough, you’ll figure it out yourself.’ ”

    Rubenstein did not receive the kind of education that addles the mind, where teachers “teach to the test” and students learn by rote, as happens in so many public schools. He learned to think for himself — and the teaching began at home.

    “I was fortunate to have a loving set of parents who were committed to my education,” Rubenstein said. “They wanted me to do well in school, and their approval meant a lot. When your parents tell you, ‘We are proud of you,’ and they tell the neighbors what a good job you did, that’s incentive.”

    Every single one of his teachers must have been great for him to become a billionaire.

  105. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Last night I saw a wonderful movie about Temple Grandin,the autistic woman who overcame great challenges to become a renowned expert on animal behavior. In the movie it was so obvious that her parents, her teachers and Temple herself, were responsible for her exceptional accomplishment. I immediately googled her because I wanted to hear her speak. At Sarah Lawrence College she gave the most credit to her parents, but also mentioned teachers and other mentors. And of course she herself had an amazing determination to succeed and to overcome her handicaps. It reminded me of the gutsy and heroic Gabrielle Giffords.

    I believe that “everyone,” certainly all educated people, know that it takes a partnership among parents, teachers and students to educate a child. Sure there are exceptions but most of us need the help of parents and teachers to succeed. Why are people pretending otherwise? It can only hurt the poorest and the most uneducated among us because they might be tempted to look for others to do the work that they must do themselves. We might wish otherwise, but there are few good substitutes for Mom and Dad. And yes, ultimately the student himself (herself) must want to learn.

  106. Chris Smyr Says:

    Why are you avoiding the question, Phillip? Do you still think it was a valid criticism now that you’ve been corrected?

  107. PhillipMarlowe Says:

    Anyone wishing to engage in dishonesty can look to Michelle Rhee nee Johnson for guidance.
    I admire that way many are willing to look the other way and cut her a wide path that makes the tunnels at the Shasta dam look like straws.

    I took my (70) students from scoring at the 13th percentile in second grade to 90% at the 90th percentile at the end of 3rd grade.”
    I wonder if it was her failure to be successful with 7 of her students that made herself think that she wasn’t a good teacher and therefore should quit.

  108. Bill Jones Says:

    Chris,

    How does one study science in a graduate program and become such a steady, impassioned voice for education improvement?

    When I did my graduate studies in physics and mathematics I was up against it 24-7 for three years. It was really tough. It pushed me to the edge of my intellectual endurance.

    I would like to offer, in the spirit of mathematics and physics an elegant solution to a seemingly intractable problem.

    1. Grant parents full freedom of choice in the schooling of their child through fully funded vouchers.

    2. Institute national board tests to assess student learning. Eliminate teacher grading.

    3. Grant to parents the full right to privacy of their choices regarding their child’s education.

    4. Eliminate the DOE and all state departments of education.

    Now, you can concentrate on your graduate studies.

    You are a talented guy. Stop wasting your time on this issue. It is much like the abortion debate.

  109. Chris Smyr Says:

    Phillip, it was a very simple question I asked you: Do you still think it was a valid criticism now that you’ve been corrected? Yes or no?

    And hurry, before your other personalities take the keyboard away again.

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