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6 Replies to “Off-Message”
The polls you cited today have already been subjected to a devastating analysis by Gerald Bracey and others. Paul Houston, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, observed that “having the testing industry study the results of a massive program of testing is like having the cigarette industry do a study of lung cancer.” According to Bracey, the full explanation of the ETS poll methodology wasn’t published until David Hoff sleuthed it down.
I don’t know about that but following your hyperlink to the end of the ETS poll, I read that the majority of the public believes that NCLB pressures teachers to teach to the test and distorts priorities. Then I found an incredibly egregious manipulation of data. ETS reported that 19% of teachers supported reauthorization with minor changes, 46% support reauthorization with major changes, and 33% say it shouldn’t be reauthorized at all. There subtitle was, “Teacher Opposition Grows But Remains Minority.
Bracey also noted that support for NCLB in the Education Next poll was higher when the law was not mentioned by name. As you acknowledge, a majority support NCLB reuthorization with only minimal changes. But how does the general public distinguish between minimal and major changes? Both polls massaged that issue by presenting a blatantly pro-NCLB description of the law.
Even a layman like me can tell that neither poll you cited are valid. I don’t think I know a single person who supports NCLB, but I wouldn’t claim that that is valid social science either.
If I want you to listen to my explanation of how and why NCLB went wrong, I need to go “off-message” and seriously consider the areas where it was more successful. The recent Rand study showed that about 1/3 of teachers in California and Pennsylvania support the policies that grew out of NCLB accountability. But in Georgia, about ½ still do. Interestingly, in California and Pennsylvania 29% and 30% respectively say that policies prompted by NCLB support their personal approach to teaching, while in Georgia 52% do.
The report may have an explanation because “Georgia has been particularly active in developing and implementing a new coordinated system of school support.” Georgia also took full advantage of the “Balloon Mortgage” approach to proficiency goals. It had until 2008 to improve from 60% proficiency to 70%
This is consistent with Chicago’s research showing that its 1990s reforms that set more reasonable goals were more effective than the same type of reforms under NCLB goals, which were manifestly impossible. This reinforces my assumption that education reform, like education itself, is best served by confidence and hope.
On the other hand, the CALDER study you cited by Rouse et.al. argues that more coercive and threatening mandates produce better results. I don’t have the expertise to analyze their numbers, but it seemed to be a professional study. And I find its empirical conclusion to be unsurprising. They concluded that increases in student achievement were the result of gaming the system, more resources, and policy changes that resulted from NCLB. They concluded that 15% of gains in Reading were the result of those policy changes.
Think of that for a second! If anti-NCLB researchers argued that 85% of student gains were not “real” or were attributable to other factors, wouldn’t that be the headline? Similarly, the RAND report concluded that SES tutoring was beneficial and recommended an expansion of that program. How much improvement? Due to my lack of math, I may mis-state the conclusion but as I read it the gains were a Coefficient of .08. To me, that sounds comparable to the massive scientific study authorized by NCLB which Gerald Bracey described as proving that billions of dollars were “down the tubes.”
From my laymen’s perspective, the key conclusion of Rouse et. al. was that policy changes in five domains proved effective. But I couldn’t find any changes in their narrative. Before NCLB, Florida sought to raise student performance by reducing class size, tutoring and supplemental instruction, collaboration and granting time for team planning by teachers, narrowing the curriculum, and professional development. After NCLB, they did the same, including more of the more promising approaches like increasing collaborative planning to 80 minutes. I saw no evidence in their report that the coercive tactics were more effective. In fact, if an objective editor had written the title and the executive summary, I suspect the report would have sounded completely different. I’ve got no idea why they chose to stress the coercive over the collaborative characteristics of successful reform.
Combined, the two studies SHOULD raise the question of the guard dog that failed to bark. They ASSUME that mandates of curriculum-driven alignment is the path of reform, and they report the lukewarm results of that approach. But if we had invested tens of billions of dollars in the “Frank McCourt “Teach Your Passion’ Law” that provided professional development, collaboration, and the capacity-building required to help teachers to develop their own professional autonomy, as well as addressing pre-K, nutrition, mental health, and the whole child, what would the results be?
RAND emphasizes that it is teachers who must implement NCLB so their attitudes are important. Both studies acknowledged a worrisome decline in teacher morale Across the nation, teachers who once supported NCLB now support the law at a level that is comparable to America’s support for Bush. I’m no expert on Georgia, but it has done a lot of good things. It has committed to dropout prevention specialists, for instance, and Atlanta looked good in the Urban NAEP study (although they also increased their NAEP exclusion rates dramatically). And if we Oklahomans could trade our economy for Georgia’s, we’d see a dramatic increase in test scores as well as polls that measure satisfaction in everything. My theory is that both studies provide support for the argument that it was the panic produced by NCLB, not the letter of the law, that caused most of the harm.
If we want to replicate the best of the practices that were increased by NCLB, then we should focus on that goal. Some “reformers” seem to be committed to fear and loathing as if it is an end it itself. But I believe that most of the original supporters of NCLB will welcome the lessons that are emerging from the last six years.
How can we know if students are learning anything, John? How can I know if my kid is falling behind other kids her age in math? How can I know if my school is teaching kids math as well as other schools are teaching kids math?
Please let me know, I need answers to these questions. Thanks.
I take your question seriously. We can do a better job at both transperancy and accountability. And if you have the knowledge and interest, and if spend the time, then you can answer those questions for your own children.
But fundamentally, we as society can’t yet do what you ask. Americans don’t like to hear it, but some things just aren’t possible, at least at our level of wisdom and knowledge. Trade-offs are always real. You can’t blitz every play and double cover every receiver on every play. You can’t play man-to-man and play zone at the same time.
We have to make tough choices, knowing there is always a down side. (I make hundreds of decisions a day, but the number of decisions that I know are right is small. If you want to survive emtionally in an inner city school, you have to develop a sense of tragedy- just like an emergency room doctors) If we want hard data-driven accountability, we can’t have data-driven decision-making. We all understand the dictum “garbage in, garbage out” when it applies to our own profession.
I’m hoping that my man Obama will borrow a page from Bill Clinton’s current spiel. He talks the language of accountability. He says we must measure. But his tone is completely different from the 90s when he was trying to prove he’s as tough as the Republicans. That’s a battle we can’t win. More importantly, its a battle we shouldn’t try to fight. We shouldn’t try to turn the accountabilty tail into something that can wag the dog.
(No, I’m not anti-tails either. I love my dog’s cute little tail.)
Back to your specific question. You can take the time, using multiple measures including your knowledge of your own kids and your intuitive appraisal of their teachers, and get good info. Similarly, you can invest the thousands of hours of loving care to prepare your own children for the 20th centruy. And you can vote for economic, social and educational policies that will help greater numbers of kids who don’t have adequate parental guidance or opportunities.
But you can’t create a federal system that mandates a civil rights revolution on the cheap. What you seek remains utopian, and it has the potential to be dystopian.
John Thompson, a left-liberal fan of Orwell.
Right now, the citizens of my community spend $151 million of our money to educate our children.
We cannot drop everything to spend hours at school trying to discern whether the organization we are funding is doing its job.
We need some way to know without some fuzzy answer about “can’t do this” and “invest the time.” That just doesn’t cut it.
I am an educator, and I understand fully the challenges facing schools. I know quite well that NCLB ripped the lid off my district’s failure to educate poor and minority children as well as other kids. Lots of educators are angry about that, and they blame the law rather than looking at the organization. Or rather than looking at the quality of their own work.
I agree with you on this: some teachers know a lot about how to teach and they get really good outcomes for students. Some teachers don’t know how to teach and they do fine with kids who rich, white, and have support at home, but do poorly with kids who disadvantaged.
We know what these teachers ought to do. (Likewise, the building principals who are good at their work as leaders, or bad.) But how can we make sure these teachers learn how to do their jobs better and then do it? Until NCLB, this problem was covered up by overall average good scores, and by transferring teachers when parents got too upset.
BTW, it is nearly impossible to get a teaching job in my district. People line up to work her because it is a great place to teach.
You stressed math in your previous post, and its not going to be as difficult to devise an accountability regime or align instruction in that area. It is manifestly impossible to do so in my area, History. Different subjects will have greater or lesser dificulty in creating a valid accountability system.
BTM? I’m not familar with that. But if your district has plenty of applicants, your situation is easier. You can afford to create a multiple measures system to remove ineffective teachers and assist marginal ones. Our union is amenable to firing bad teachers, but what is the point in poor districts. Then we’d have empty classrooms because who wants to teach in the inner city under today’s situation? There are only a limited number of missionaries, and if I had kids of my own I wouldn’t have stuck it out. But there is a limit to the aptience of teachers when society adds the insult of deplorable accountability systems to the injury of urban conditions. By the way, do something about national health care and immediately the problem of firing ineffective teachers becomes more managable for both the union and the district.
The unaswerable question is how do you chop up knowledge in testable formats? A few good systems exist for AP, IB, and narrow areas. We won’t come close to producing something comparable for the diversity of America for decades. Under NCLB we just test inner kids at a level that is years above their skill level. Even then, what good would it do to test on Standards when many or most or by far the most teachers can’t read and understand them much less teach them? And weirdly, that isn’t a criticism. In my district, I’d estimate that 1/6th of our teachers have a good understanding of the Standards they should teach (although the percentage in high poverty schools is much, much lower) and an equal amount don’t even have a clue. But we couldn’t function without many of them. Many of our best teachers come from a world where they never had a chance to get an adequate education, but the are effective teachers in many other ways.
You may be tired of hearing about my school losing more than 100 students a year since NCLB, with about 1/2 ending up on the streets. (this is in addition to a previously deplorable droput rate) As I’ve written, our small school of 700 last year had to deal
with seven murders. We’ll be up in our ears with the gang war and we still have to pull 1/3rd of our teachers out for test training on a day when all hell is breaking loose. Our last three victims were hospitalizad but we hadn’t had a fatal attack this year until Christmas. So we’ll have our plates full tommorrow. Just take our girls basketball team which is down to seven. One girl lost her father over Christmas to another murder, one with no parents became homeless on Christmas, and one attempted sucide. Just watch the skill with which our assitant principal (with a $55,000 salary)is handling these and other brand new tragedies while still facing the gang war. Who cares if she understands Standards? She works 90+ hours a week, when does she have the time to learn them?
But back to the apparent wealth of your district. Federal funding is supposed to target high poverty schools. I’d support programs to finance improvements in your schools as long as they do not entail policies that damage my kids’ schools. If we want to help poor students and schools, we should focus on poor students and schools. We should focus on solutions that are cost effective in high poverty schools, and fund those. Standards are fine, and accountability is too, but we have so many more promising approaches.
What would it say about education and America if we couldn’t devise something that was dramatically better than the NCLB approach?
There is a lot of frustration when it comes to the NCLB law. In a primary setting when you don’t make AYP they take away funding such at Title one. I feel this is only a disadvantage to the students because they are not getting the extra help they need to work towards grade level. The teahers are working even harder to meet the needs of these students but then when MAP scores come back the top kids sometimes go down due to there only being so much time in a day to teach. What is the answer to this? I’m not sure but I think the burn out for teachers is geoing to get worse.