Conjuring Romney And Let’s Go To The Videotape?!

In the American Spectator RiShawn Biddle argues that Romney largely will continue the education policies of Bush and Obama – mainly because he has some moderates advising him and once was a moderate on the issue. But as a rule it’s always risky to conflate the policy apparatus of a presidential campaign with its political imperatives. So Biddle’s analysis would be more convincing (a) if many of these advisers were not privately saying that the politics of education are tough on the Republican side (b) if the candidate himself – who does seem prone to change his positions on this stuff – was not saying he’s going to pursue a more conservative federal role in education and (c) if we ignore that were he to win Romney would almost certainly be dealing with conservatives in Congress not favorably disposed to a strong federal role in education and eager to undo some Obama (and Bush) era policies and, of course, (d) if Biddle’s best evidence of Romney’s moderate education credentials were richer than supporting the D.C. voucher program and some pro-reform speeches from 2003. And of course President Bush himself hinted disapprovingly at what the Republican candidates were up to himself.  My take on current state of presidential education politics via TIME here.

In The Times Michael Winerip takes a look at resistance to a new teacher licensing system based on video that’s being jointly developed by Stanford and Pearson. It’s one of a few efforts to use video currently underway. As to the resistors, let’s just stipulate that when you think Stanford’s Graduate School of Education is too reformist, well…anyway…

Winerip seems most concerned that this new idea will lead to outsourcing and “corporatization” and denigrate teachers.  Perhaps, but teachers have to pass licensing tests now.  Absent subject matter tests for secondary teachers they’re mostly low-level and most people from the educational left to the educational right think a higher-bar would help elevate the profession – it’s one of the few points of pretty widespread agreement in today’s education debate. And probably worth nothing that today’s licensing tests are also developed and administered by the private and non-profit sector and then paid for by candidates and used by states.  It’s, well, outsourcing. Or, in other words, this is how it works today.  The only difference in this case is the technology.

A more serious objection might be the cost-effectiveness of this video approach relative to better hiring and human resources practices at the school level.  Rather than sparing people from making decisions should we be investing in capacity to make those decisions? And once there is more data a key question will be what the predictive leverage of this approach is relative to other – cheaper – licensing tests now in use? A second, related, issue is that for all the talk about value-added scores bouncing around it’s observations that are really noisy right now and have big reliability issues. The way to address that is more observations but that’s costly.

More generally, the idea of more observational protocols is obviously a good one.  It’s still entirely possible to get hired for a teaching job without anyone in the place where you are teaching having actually seen you teach. And the majority of teachers do not teach in subjects or grades where standardized tests are used, so other approaches are needed even if you think value-added data are useful.  But as with all things evaluation you can’t just go from zero to 60. In this case there is still a lot of work to be done to figure out how to norm the evaluators for greater consistency and more generally around how to most effectively use video. The Gates Foundation MET project is one important piece of that work (and is about to produce a large library of live teaching video for public use, the privacy issues are not the three ring circus they’re made out to be in this column). Other fields – particularly athletics of all things – are further ahead on using video in different ways. It’s an area where some innovation could lead to new ideas and methods.

Finally, higher-bar or no higher-bar, a big part of the problem here is the lack of accountability for schools of education (I say that as a board member of two of them – UVA and HGSE – and a former state official). Another area of broad-agreement in today’s education debates is that the country’s education schools need to step up their game, in many cases dramatically. How to do that and the politics of doing it are the flash points. That’s an issue of better policy, not better video.

Note – I’ve done a very small amount of consulting indirectly for Pearson and unrelated to this work.  Gates is a funder of BW.

5 Replies to “Conjuring Romney And Let’s Go To The Videotape?!”

  1. Andy:
    I think Winerip is off base in this piece. VIVA Teachers, is getting traction with teachers precisely because we use technology to make collaboration easier and less time-consuming. VIVA Teachers have even tackled the issues of teacher training and evaluation and have built a strong consensus that dramatic changes in teacher prep is necessary and that teacher evaluation must pay attention to their craft not just student test scores, I don’t get the deal here–except the evil for profit and the use of technology.
    Winerip either misread the angle or this is an example of misplaced frustration by teachers from all the skepticism (and beyond) that the profession has been taking for a decade or more now. To us at VIVA, the failure of “reform” is directly linked to a lack of inventive or meaningful dialogue with teachers. These kind of knee-jerk conspiracy responses, by the press, by teachers, by reformers are all to frequent in this field. And the real culprit in the slowing momentum for real reform in education.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the Rodney King of education reform. I am well aware of the many forces against substantive dialogue, but too bad. It’s really time to engage teachers directly in achieving reform, and the kind of confusion about priorities/solutions will never go away until we take a serious stab at engaging teachers, and even their leadership, directly in substantive problem-solving.

  2. So, is this new thing supposed to be better than Praxis III bc it’s video and non in-person observation? Unclear to me. Also weird that no one ever points out that the National Board a) requires applicants to videotape and b) has oodles of experience dealing with inter-rater reliability.

  3. From Eduwonk 5 years ago:

    In five years, will we have produced more graduates per administrative salary dollar than we did in the past five? Similarly with achievement and operational efficiency. If it turns out in three or five years that we’re not seeing bang for the buck, then we have a problem. In the meantime, can we please put this topic to bed?

    –Guestblogger (and D.C. taxpayer) Sara Mead

    Any follow up forthcoming?

  4. To Rotherham,

    Edu-reform, journalism, and education consultancy are weak, risible professions.

    The very second a young student resolves the forces on a static block on an incline plane they are WORTH MORE THAN YOU ARE.

    Smart people find the edu-reform movement entirely nonsensical. They have tuned it out. They can get what they want by themselves. They do not need a gang of confused, craven opportunists to help them.

    Education is not difficult, unless of course, you are a journalist and former political aide/consultant/appointee/overpaid hanger-on/know it all.

  5. In the Navy, submarine power plant operators not only operated the plant but performed inspections. They had to qualify, requalify, and requalify again.

    It is time to force the reformers to qualify. Before we hand one more dollar over to these folks we need some assurance that they can do the job. We cannot pay them, and then find out they cannot do the job or deliver to the taxpayers a shoddy product. Innovation and reform cannot be used as excuses for bilking or cheating taxpayers.

    These edu-markets also need more competition and taxpayers need to drive harder bargains with these powerful edu-monopolies. Taxpayers can say no and save a bundle.

    When submarines were worked on in the yards, we had not only performance contracts, but also sealed bid. And we had contract dispute rights. Nuke qualified EDO’s and DC inspection staff certified that contractors had performed their contractual duties. Contractors that did botched work, or failed to deliver on time PAID PENALTIES.

    It is beyond time to hold the reformers accountable to taxpayers. It is time to push aside the buzz words and for taxpayers to drive some hard bargains.

    The past ten years have been very kind to the carpetbagging edu-monoplies. It is time to shed some daylight on what they do, and drive down their prices.

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