Except For Them!

NYT education reporter Michael Winerip’s method of holding up schools that are not meeting various accountability requirements and giving an incomplete picture of these schools and what’s going on is well-established.  The archetype of the genre is Lake Alfred in Florida. And of course, Wheeler Elementary deserves a place in the pantheon, too.

Today we get Oyster River Middle School. Scary! And just in time for Halloween.  The school isn’t making “adequate yearly progress or AYP.” Winerip says that’s just because,”about a dozen of its 110 special education children did not score high enough.”  Sure, what’s 10 percent of the special ed kids here among friends?  Actually, it also looks like some low-income students may be lagging, too, (only about 3 in 4 low-income fifth-graders are proficient in math) and schools are unfortunately quick to blame special education students for AYP problems when other groups aren’t doing well either. (You can find data here via Great Schools).  Winerip basically says it’s a great school and this is just more evidence of the folly of accountability.  It does look like a good school – and to their credit they apparently want to do better – but just for the sake of argument: What about the poor students or special education students there? Don’t they matter? Nevermind, I think I know the answer.  Apparently they don’t.  Winerip touts SAT scores instead…which, of course, not all students take…

In his own subtle way Winerip’s work is actually a spectacular argument for No Child Left Behind-style policies requiring disaggregation, transparency, and accountability.  It’s pretty clear that absent those policy elements students who lag behind are swept under the rug. This is one reason special education advocates, for instance, are in favor of No Child Left Behind’s approach.  The performance targets required by No Child do need to be changed, yes, because the law is several years overdue for reauthorization.  But it’s exactly this ethos that makes many people leery of various alternatives to today’s policy and is consequently slowing progress on Capitol Hill.  Or, put another way, ‘except for them’ sounds reasonable, unless it’s your kid.

11 Replies to “Except For Them!”

  1. Actually the article talks about the role of test prep. The teacher elects not to go in that direction. Test prep has no long term value and taints the data.

  2. If poor students and special ed. students are better off now than they were in 2000, then your argument makes sense. But there is no evidence that they are. About five years into NCLB I began to wonder what reformers would do if, after a long period of time, there was no evidence that test-based reform was successful. The answer appears to be that they will advocate for more of the same.

  3. Doing cool projects, teaching without textbooks, and “making learning fun” all make schools sound great, but if the students don’t know how to use a textbook, or if they don’t have basic literacy skills like reading a title and making predictions about a text, what’s the use? I’ve seen far too many instances of “inquiry-based learning” being used to fool people into thinking that real learning was happening in the classroom. If teachers’ best advice on how to pass a writing exam is to tell students to “fill the box,” I have to wonder about the quality of their “superior” teaching methods.

  4. I think you missed the point regarding schools which miss AYP because of special education students. As a special education teacher, I value each and every student, but I recognize they learn at their own pace. Some students have cognitive disabilities which impede their ability to read or to understand basic math concepts. Some students have mental health issues where they have been hospitalized for large periods of the school year, some children have learning disabilities which significantly slow their learning, despite all the research-based interventions.

    It is a “one-size-fits-all” accountability plan that is failing these students. The schools are right to question and call it out. They are showing the care about and value these students as individuals, not some just some silly test score.

  5. It is enjoyable to see Michael Winerip get under Andy’s skin (or noted liar Steven Brill’s).

    Truth hurts, Andy.

  6. Diane Ravitch does a decent job of pointing out the flaws in his argument, noting that identifying bad teachers is not as easy as it sounds. Based on my experiences, I would argue that being a good or bad teacher is largely a function of the environment where you work. A teacher who is not up to par (by any evaluation method) at one school may be an excellent teacher in another school. For example, I received satisfactory ratings as a high school teacher in Chicago but got an unsatisfactory during my year teaching elementary school. The age and race of the children you teach, along with your camaraderie with other teachers, support from your administration, class size, sufficient resources, adequate facilities, and motivation of children and parents all play a big role in teacher quality. Teacher quality is not constant by any means. . I do agree that bad teachers should eventually be removed, but only after sufficient intervention and determining whether they are in the best possible environment for their talents. Hanushek also vastly overstates the importance of the teacher. Teachers matter, but it isn’t like the movie Freedom Writers where the nice new teacher comes along and instantly turns everything around despite poverty and neglect. We need to have realistic expectations.

  7. As much as I’d like to see my special needs child catch up to her chronological peers, I think it’s absurd to fault her school for not yet achieving that goal. They have helped her make tremendous progress but because she started out so far behind, she remains behind. The progress of special needs kids needs to be measured against their own individual goals, not a well-intentioned but unrealistic target of 100% grade-level proficiency.

  8. Q: Was Arne Duncan wrong when he said our evaluation system was broken because 95% of teachers received satisfactory ratings?
    A: Not according to Eric Hanushek who says over 90% of our teachers are really quite good.

    But lets back up a second. According to Cedar Riener,
    “policy efforts urgently focused on improving through selection, rather than supporting all who have chosen a profession, are doomed to fail.”(1)

    Not only are there problems of measurement (esp, its accuracy vs. stabiliy),
    there are problems with principals who favor the teachers who follow their line and set them up to do better than their peers. There is also the problem of ranking teachers relative to one another, thus creating a
    disincentive for cooperation among the staff.
    But, leaving those problems aside, what does Eric Hanushek say about the quality of teachers? And where would he suggest his research leads?

    On the first issue he says he quality of the average teacher is really quite good. But this seems to get lost in the noise about Finland:

    So bringing up Finland, if we could replace the bottom five to eight percent of our teachers in terms of effectiveness with just an average teacher — and an average teacher is quite good in our schools — if we could replace the bottom five to eight percent with an average teacher, our national achievement would rise to the level of Finland. (Eric Hanushek speaking, “Class Size and Student Achievement,” Diane Rehm Show, 8 March 2011;)

    Not only is the average teacher ‘quite good, but in defending his position regarding active deselection, Hanushek writes, that this does not apply to “teachers en masse . . . but a small number are dreadful. . . . The typical teacher is both hard-working and effective [but] a small proportion of teachers at the bottom is dragging down our schools. . . . replace the bottom 5%-10% of teachers with an average teacher–not a superstar–we could dramatically improve student achievement.”(2)

    If the average teacher is actually ‘quite good,’ does that suggest that the system is failing and needs to be drastically restructured? Or does it suggest that, as regards teacher quality, it is basically sound? Does it seem to justify removing 5 to 8% (10%?) of teachers year after year?

    Also, if we need to remove only 5 to 8% (it seem to have gone up to 10% only in the WSJ article) – a big article of faith with the Teacher Quality people – what does that say about the other 90 to 92 to 95%?

    So, again,was Arne Duncan wrong when he said the evaluation system was broken because 95% of teachers received satisfactory ratings?

    (1) Cedar Riener (“Deselection of the Bottom 8%: Lessons from Eugenics for Modern School Reform,” Scientific American invited Guest Blog, July 19, 2011)

    (2) Eric Hanushek, “There Is No ‘War on Teachers’ There is a growing bipartisan agreement on the importance of rewarding good ones,” WSJ Opinion October 19, 2010. As always, he incluided the claim, “The U.S. could move from below average in international comparisons to near the top.” Having to reaccess this, I found it at a website associated with Oklahoma State called Orange Power (http://www.orangepower.com/threads/there-is-no-war-on-teachers-wsj.102284/) and including the following posted comment, “After all, the good employees in any work setting would rarely need a union. Only the bad ones need the shelter of the union.” Nearly all the rest of the comments focused on unions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.