No Value-Added

Rick Hess and Sara Mead have made good points on “Rhee-gate” already.  For my part I really don’t care what Michelle Rhee’s value-add or gain scores would or would not have been in Baltimore almost two decades ago.  Why?  It’s not just that this whole thing is unprovable given the data available today.  Rather, it’s because  today she is pushing an actual education agenda that has ideas – with varying amounts of evidence and/or proof of concept behind them – and we should have a lively debate about those proposals. And it should be obvious that those ideas don’t hinge on her value-add scores or really much of anything that happened almost two-decades ago.

Imagine for a moment if Michelle Rhee’s value-added scores sucked but she was promoting an agenda of more spending, less charters and choice, and getting rid of standardized testing.  How many of the same people rushing to make hay out of this latest “scandal” would be silent about her performance in the classroom?  Conversely, say her value-add scores were off the charts but she was pushing that same anti-choice and pro-spending agenda, would the same people be rushing to embrace and defend her?

That, in fact, is the larger issue this episode reveals.  All the various priors that are commonly debated seem to only matter to the extent that one’s position in the debate is or is not acceptable to different parties.  And  that positional orientation is a pretty sorry state of affairs that persists day in and day out.  I’m consistently amazed at the extent to which it’s blatantly obvious people haven’t even read a particular piece of work but simply make assumptions based on who wrote it or by how often policy questions are framed in remarkably personal terms.

Eleanor Roosevelt noted that, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”  There sure is a lot of time wasted in this field discussing people, positioning relative to various people, blogs that weirdly get off on all that, advocates who make it their stock and trade,  and we should all be embarrassed for the extent to which it’s tolerated given the scale of the challenges we’re facing.  I certainly don’t want to imply that this doesn’t go on in other sectors, it does.  But we’re worse than most and there is a price to be paid for that in terms of the quality of dialogue and ensuing policy and practice.

36 Replies to “No Value-Added”

  1. “with varying amounts of evidence and/or proof of concept behind them”

    One of those proofs was that a great teacher can make a difference, like she did. Except she didn’t.

    And your qualifier, “varying” is important because most evidence and/or proof shows her policies won’t work.

    And most of us who complain about Rhee would complain if she lied even if she were pushing reform ideas that educators support.

    Your darling is a liar, and you don’t care. Fine. We’ll remember that when we think of you.

  2. TFT:

    Bullshit. You and others still have not given evidence for her claim bearing out as false; the UMBC study’s numbers are consistent with her claim given the large uncertainty of the numbers. Here’s why:

    Ironically, you fault Andy for his correct understanding of the paper in a comment on a post about how many in education (yourself unabashedly included) often make big stinks based on faulty thinking.

  3. Eleanor Roosevelt noted that, “Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people.”

    Ideas like truthfulness, honesty, fidelity and humility?

    Quality on which Miss Rhee falls short.

  4. A great mind who contributed integrity and truthfulness to this issue is Ed Harris.

    Thank you, Ed.

  5. Are you all going to continue to dance about with your eyes closed and your fingers in your ears? The paper doesn’t prove ANY of your claims.

  6. So, Chris, it sounds like you are saying that she didn’t lie because nobody knows the actual numbers? Except her? If the numbers don’t exist, and she claimed numbers that do not exist, what do we call that?

    She made the claim. She needs to prove it. It’s a lot like god. Guys like you don’t get to say god exists and require guys like me to prove god doesn’t exist. No. If you make the claim, you better back it up. She made the claim.

  7. What it sounds like to me is a bunch of dimwits such as yourself chest-beating about how a study that DOESN’T conclude ANYTHING about the veracity of Rhee’s claim is the smoking gun to this non-issue.

    It’s also apparent that you still don’t get the irony of you calling out Andy on a post where he suggests people like you need to read more carefully before shouting “Bang!” on every edublog out there.

  8. What it sounds like to me is a true believer whose faith will never be shaken, no matter what the facts.

    Specific numbers aside, it seems like it would bother a lot of people that she repeated the claims frequently, without knowing for sure she was right about them. Today she made the lame excuse that her principal’s word was all she had to go on – as if she couldn’t tell a classroom full of kids at the 50th percentile from kids at the 90 percentile.

    Even if that raises some doubts, if you’re a true believer, it probably only makes your faith stronger. That’s what true belief is all about.

  9. The study you all were prancing around about doesn’t suggest a damn thing about Rhee’s classroom scores other than she might actually be telling the truth, so don’t come here implying that you have “facts” to the contrary.

    “Specific numbers aside”. lol!

    Which numbers would you like us to ignore?

  10. In the interest of fairness to Ms. Rhee maybe she could put together a support group of teachers that have raised their students’ scores from the 13th percentile to the 90th percentile.

    Chris, would you be willing to mine some test score data to find such a cohort? And how many teachers do you think have pulled off such a feat? It sounds incredibly impressive.

    Certainly to my ears – it sounds too good to be true – and that’s the issue here – Ms. Rhee claims defy common sense. And when you make claims that defy common sense you have to prove them with evidence – she hasn’t.

    To me, it would seem improbable that any other teacher has ever raised scores that much in a year – and I’ll hold that view until someone shows me the evidence.

    Is it naive of me to hold that view, Chris?

  11. Pick your debate, Steve:

    1) Do you want to debate why this paper does or does not confirm Rhee’s claim?


    2) Do you want to discuss the improbability of large gains in a year?

    The first one came and went: the paper doesn’t prove anything.

    The second one will not be ended by “mining test scores to find such a cohort”, so I’m not going to waste my time. Had I found other teachers that had similar gains, it wouldn’t prove that Rhee had done the same, nor would it prove that other teachers could replicate it.

  12. The issue is trust. If she still believes that she “Over a two-year period, moved students scoring on average at the 13th percentile on national standardized tests to 90 percent of students scoring at the 90th percentile or higher.” then she should say that. If she doesn’t, then she should admit she was wrong. Showing that kind of maturity would really help students by presenting them with a good role model.

    Until she does one of these two things, people should stop giving her donations and supporting her organization.

  13. Tim:

    So instead of ignoring this non-issue you want her to either:

    1) Repeat her defense of her initial claim despite not having the official documentation that everyone is faulting her for not having, and by doing so open herself up to further unfair criticism for lacking this,


    2) Admit her claim was incorrect despite her thinking it correct, and despite there being no evidence suggesting it incorrect, and despite the large gains seen in all sources of data that we can manage to find, all in an effort to show “maturity”.

    And you expect others to stop giving donations until she does.

    Great advice — doesn’t sound demanding or overbearing at all, no sir.

  14. Chris Smyr,

    The importance of educators being good role models certainly not a non-issue for me, so the issue of whether Rhee’s claim is incorrect if very important.

    I am proposing that she show maturity by addressing the inconsistency between the recent data and her claim. Perhaps it is not mathematically impossible for her claim to be correct, but according to recent information, it seems very unlikely.

    I certainly don’t expect people to stop giving donations because they agree with her proposals, but there are many other ways to pursue reforms without involving Rhee.

  15. Chris Smyr,

    The importance of educators being good role models certainly not a non-issue for me, so the issue of whether Rhee’s claim is incorrect is very important.

    I am proposing that she show maturity by addressing the inconsistency between the recent data and her claim. Perhaps it is not mathematically impossible for her claim to be correct, but according to recent information, it seems very unlikely.

    I certainly don’t expect people to stop giving donations because they agree with her proposals, but there are many other ways to pursue reforms without involving Rhee.

  16. Tim:

    You are the one making this into an issue about being a role model, yet your “advice” wouldn’t at all help her do that given that she definitely believes that those students made large gains, and the numbers from 2 separate studies and the MSPAP data suggest growth in 3rd grade for that year.

    Also: there is no inconsistency with the data. Read the paper! The study never intended to offer, nor did it actually publish, evidence on the achievements of any one particular teacher, yet everyone is baaing like sheep in agreement when some anonymous blog owner pretends that it does.

  17. On February 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm Chris Smyr said:
    Did you even read Hess’s post? You sure as hell didn’t offer any counterarguments.

    And there’s a reason no one is going to remunerate you for this “research”, and that’s because your understanding of statistics is equal to that of maybe a 1st year undergrad. The numbers are consistent with Rhee’s claim bearing out as true even if half of the tested students came from Rhee’s class. There is no possible way that she taught a class of 60+ students; there were either 2 or more classrooms total, and so just like Hess and myself wrote, you need to know exactly where those scores came from to level the asinine accusations that you are making here.

    There is no possible way that she taught a class of 60+ students;

    Michelle Said that Chris. She said she taught 70 kids.

    November 2008 Rhee at the Aspen Institute:
    “I had a life-altering experience through that experience [teaching in Baltimore], I came to realize this is all about the teachers, because for those 70 kids nothing changed….”

    “And so I became obsessed with this idea that if we were really going to change the quality of urban education in this county, it’s going to be about high quality teachers.”

    Are you calling her a liar?

  18. Ed:

    Funny how so many of you all continue to link to that video but never once get that quote down correctly (~3 minutes in if others want to watch):

    “I had a life altering experience through being a corps member, the probably most significant point of which, you know, my 2nd and 3rd year of teaching I team taught with another teacher, we brought 70 kids together in one classroom and saw a group of kids move from on average the 13th percentile on national recognized standardized tests to — at the end of the 2nd year — to 90% of them at the 90th percentile.


    For those 70 kids, their neighborhood didn’t change, home lives didn’t change […] what changed was the adults that were in front of them every single day in the classroom.”

    They team taught two groups of students that they brought together. It doesn’t mean there were always 70 students in one classroom, all receiving the same instructional practices. She also doesn’t claim that all 70 kids made those stellar gains. She vaguely says “a group of kids” made those gains, not all 70 kids. She is likely here referring to the kids in her own part of the class.

    It is hacks like you who are misleading people with these deceptive tactics and rampant misquoting as you continue to show on Brandenburg’s blog, as well.

  19. Chris, you are being dishonest to the readers here with that 70 number.
    I pointed that out over at Guy’s page.
    But then that means, according to Michelle Rhee, 90% of 70 , 63 students scored at or above the 90th percentile.

    Where are those 63 scores?
    Maybe they were disappeared to make Rhee look bad.

    And you accuse others of tin-hats!

  20. I”ll try again, so put your reading glasses on:

    She did not claim she was referring to all 70 students (particularly not on her resume, either), nor 90% of those 70 students. She likely was referring to her specific students.

    The only way you can look at those numbers and conclude she lied would be if the large majority of scores came only from Rhee’s group of students instead of the other teachers’. Statistics is not your strong point, but we know that already.

  21. cay7No wonder the public has lost confidence in our educators and no wonder our education system is so screwed up.

    As Andrew said this is not about Rhee, it is about what direction education reform should go. We pay the most and do not perform among the best, reform is needed.

    The public is waiting for educators to step up. Yet all we see is a self absorbed lot, who hold students accountable everyday but refusing to be held accountable themselves. If you do not like the reform ideas being proposed then come up with some of your own, instead of this incessant group whine.

  22. She likely was referring to her specific student
    So, she taught 70 kids, but could only get 31 to score at the 90th percentile.

    But, she said it was THE TEACHER (except when it comes to her girls and soccer).

    Help, call 911.
    There’s a sinkhole in Santa Cruz, CA.

    @Taxpayer: As Andrew said this is not about Rhee, it is about what direction education reform should go.
    Quite right. And Michelle Rhee has made quite through her dishonesty that she’s talking out of her hat.
    But Andrew , Richard, Sarah et al let her slide.
    If you let your mechanic operate like Michelle Rhee, let me know when you’re on the road.

    Your name is quite appropriate when considering Miss Rhee. Look at the taxpayers’ money she’s wasted in DC as she this way and that way to “reform” things.

  23. Jesus, Ed, it’s not that hard.

    She had a specific group of students (HER class) that she brought together with another class for team teaching. Both groups of students did not explicitly receive the same practices. She said it was the teacher that made the difference, but that doesn’t imply that both groups of students made large gains. There are other gains in achievement that she could have been referencing to share the successes of some of the students that were not hers.

    Even if you want to look at this as an exaggeration (both teachers impacted change instead of one), what does that change? Her kids still would have made large gains, her claim would still be correct, even if her team teacher didn’t see the same gains for her own class.

    If you want to also berate her reform in DCPS, maybe you could try some of that number analysis you’re so talented at. That’s always entertaining.

  24. Ed:

    DC charges the taxpayer about $30,000 per student and its performance is among the lowest in the country. Why defend the status quo.

  25. Chris,
    From the lips of Michelle:

    Rhee “sort of became obsessed,” she says. “I was not going to let 8-year-olds run me out of town.” Over the next two years, working with another teacher, she took a group of 70 kids who had been scoring “at almost rock bottom on standardized tests” to “absolutely at the top,” she says. (Baltimore does not keep records by classroom, so NEWSWEEK was unable to confirm this assertion.) The key to success was, in her word, “sweat,” on the part of the teacher and the students. “I wouldn’t say I was a great teacher. I’ve seen great. I worked hard,” says Rhee.

    She had an epiphany of sorts. In the demoralized world of inner-city schools, it is easy to become resigned to poor results—and to blame the environment, not the schools themselves. Broken families, crime, drugs, all conspire against academic achievement. But Rhee discovered that teachers could make the critical difference. “It drives me nuts when people say that two thirds of a kid’s academic achievement is based on their environment. That is B.S.,” says Rhee. She points to her second graders in Baltimore whose scores rose from worst to best. “Those kids, where they lived didn’t change. Their parents didn’t change. Their diets didn’t change. The violence in the community didn’t change. The only thing that changed for those 70 kids was the adults who were in front of them every single day teaching them.”

    Joshua fit the battle of Jericho
    and the walls came a tumblin’ down.

  26. Days later and you’re still not getting it:

    1) Your last link was actual video footage of Rhee herself talking about these gains. In that video, she does NOT imply that all 70 students made those gains, nor 90% of 70 students.

    Yet here you link to an article that quotes her saying something slightly different, and are more convinced by this reporting than a video of her actually talking about the gains herself!

    2) Even in this article, she not once says that she was referring to all 70 students with the claim that we are discussing, nor does she even mention the claim or reference any numbers. Yet you find it more convincing?

    3) You’re faulting her for how she phrased her achievement gains rather than what the data actually says and doesn’t say about the claim. The only thing you’d be able to suggest with this line of reasoning (and you haven’t even done this right) is that she’s inconsistent with her explanation of her gains, which doesn’t indicate whether or not the claim stands as truth.

    4) Anytime she has explained what she did at Harlem Park, it was to reference her hard work that helped result in the impressive gains in her students’ student achievement. Considering the data we have suggests large gains for 3rd graders in 1995, it kind of proves her basic point that students can excel despite their circumstances, right?

  27. Chris simplified:
    Don’t Believe Michelle, Believe Me.
    I know what she means.

    For the eduwonk audience: “otherwise, I’d have to admit I was wrong and Ed was right.”

    For the studentsfirst audience: “God damn, I’m sure as Hell not doing that.
    For christsakes, does he I’ll admit to that in public. He must be f…ing crazy.”

  28. I’m generally a supporter of Rhee’s ideas, but I’ve been embarrassed by her supporters’ unwillingness to call a spade a spade here. She lied, pure and simple. That is a serious issue. Why can’t we just be honest and admit that she made up the numbers — the way so many administrators feel forced to do?

    I’m disappointed in you, Andy. You should be big enough to admit that she lied and that it is serious.

  29. There are more embarrassing aspects of this episode, such as a rampant misunderstanding of research findings, the misquoting of Rhee by Ed and others, the inability to distinguish evidence from opinion, and the gullibility of many news outlets for even bothering with this story.

  30. Chris: On February 13, 2011 at 2:15 pm Chris Smyr said:
    Ed. HOW does a 2nd grade teacher teach 70 kids? Give an example. You

    I then quote Michelle Rhee and Chris ignores her quote.

    Chris The Creationist.

    I will give you credit on one thing Chris.
    Atleast you’re not lying like Rhee on this blog, your own, studentsfirst, and the WPost that you got your high school biology students to score a 5 on the AP.

    I guess you’re remembering that Chris means “bearing Christ.”
    Jesus didn’t lie.

    God bless.

  31. Were you not oblivious to my responses you’d see that her quote, from the VIDEO FOOTAGE, shows that she was NOT referencing the gains made of all 70 students, nor 90% of these, with her claim. It also suggests that she was not the primary teacher for all 70 students. You are the one hearing it wrong.

  32. This is great stuff! Education NEEDS a reality show in the same vein as “16 and Pregnant.” The arguments are just as entertaining.

    But in all seriousness, all teachers want a fair system of evaluation because, there are many ways to be an effective teacher just as there are many ways for students to learn and many philosophies for schools to adopt, etc.

    What many “non-reformers” find distasteful is this absolutist language used by “reformers” that suggests arrogantly that poor teaching is so easy to identify and replace and if only the evil unions would get out oZzf the way and stop gumming up the works.

    But what is the arrogance of the “reformer” based on, for the tools for evaluating teachers accurately don’t exist yet? The Michelle Rhee’s of this world will never convince any but the most desperate and gullible of parents that they know what’s best – like a methadone dispensery – but they will never convince educators until they realize that the real reforms evade the simple bromides and anecdotes.

    The simple fact that the woman (Rhee) felt the need to tout her own “so outstanding it seems like bullshit” record knowing full well no one would be able to substantiate it, is evidence enough of her shortcomings as a leader, let alone a “reformer.”

  33. Standardized test scores have been the excuse for many college acceptances. Universities say they are looking for diverse student body- students of all types of learning styles. But, when we look at the acceptances, all we see are high scoring SAT students. The excuses don’t end there; these students are usually those who have the resources to learn how to score higher- i.e. coming from an affluent family and/or having a better education in general. By looking only at test scores, universities do not see that there are students just as intelligent and maybe more well-rounded who may not have high scores but do have potential. Some students may be great at understanding concepts, and others may be very motivated but lack fast learning, or some are just really good test takers. Take for example Bronwyn T. Williams circumstance:
    I see one of each kind of student when I look at my twin adolescent sons, who were born just 15 minutes apart and raised in the same circumstances. One son excels at taking standardized tests of all kinds by understanding the rhetorical structure of the questions and the institutional demands for the exam. The other, though in some ways a more powerful writer and just as strong a student in school, has always found standardized tests rigid and bewildering. (605)
    Students similar to William’s son who struggle with standardized tests are usually perceived as “weak” despite being strong in school because their test scores aren’t high- above average test scores. In addition, accepting students is a really complicated decision in itself. There are really strong test takers who lack devotion in school; does a college really want to accept a student like this? Not likely, but the standardized test scores help boost college credibility. Many standardized tests “are designed so that only about half the test-takers will respond correctly to most items. The main objective of these tests is to rank, not to rate; to spread out the scores, not to gauge the quality of a given student or school.” (599). A fact even more upsetting is “the SAT is a ‘scale tipper’…if you get enough [students] with 50 points or higher than the rest, you can bring your mean SAT score up.” (625). By accepting students based solely on their high SAT scores, universities are subjecting students to focus so much on getting higher SAT scores than actually wanting to learn.

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