The Failure of American Schools

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The Failure of American Schools

Postby Dark567 » Thu May 26, 2011 8:24 pm UTC

This is an interesting piece by the Super Intended of the New York Public schools, detailing all the political problems with schools in the US. She claims that the system is set up "for the benefits of the adults" and as Kafkaesque.

The article is long so only the first page is in the spoiler.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/arc ... ools/8497/

Spoiler:
HREE YEARS AGO, in a New York Times article detailing her bid to become head of the American Federation of Teachers union, Randi Weingarten boasted that despite my calls for “radical reform” to New York City’s school system, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and I had achieved only “incremental” change. It seemed like a strange thing to crow about, but she did have something of a point. New York over the past nine years has experienced what Robert Schwartz, the academic dean of Harvard’s education school, has described as “the most dramatic and thoughtful set of large-scale reforms going on anywhere in the country,” resulting in gains such as a nearly 20-point jump in graduation rates. But the city’s school system is still not remotely where it needs to be.

That story holds more than true for the country at large. Nearly three decades after A Nation at Risk, the groundbreaking report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, warned of “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people,” the gains we have made in improving our schools are negligible—even though we have doubled our spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) on K–12 public education. On America’s latest exams (the National Assessment of Educational Progress), one-third or fewer of eighth-grade students were proficient in math, science, or reading. Our high-school graduation rate continues to hover just shy of 70 percent, according to a 2010 report by the Editorial Projects in Education Research Center, and many of those students who do graduate aren’t prepared for college. ACT, the respected national organization that administers college-admissions tests, recently found that 76 percent of our high-school graduates “were not adequately prepared academically for first-year college courses.”





VIDEO: Joel Klein explains the twisted politics of New York education in a conversation with Atlantic editor James Bennet
While America’s students are stuck in a ditch, the rest of the world is moving ahead. The World Economic Forum ranks us 48th in math and science education. On international math tests, the United States is near the bottom of industrialized countries (the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), and we’re in the middle in science and reading. Similarly, although we used to have one of the top percentages of high-school and college graduates among the OECD countries, we’re now in the basement for high-school and the middle for college graduates. And these figures don’t take into account the leaps in educational attainment in China, Singapore, and many developing countries.

During the first three-quarters of the 20th century, America developed an enormously successful middle class, first by making high school universal, and then, after the Second World War, by making college much more available, through the GI Bill and other scholarship programs. As a result, our educational attainment kept pace with our strong technological advancement. But that’s changed markedly since 1980, and now our technological progress is advancing more rapidly than our educational attainment. From 1960 to 1980, our supply of college graduates increased at almost 4 percent a year; since then, the increase has been about half as fast. The net effect is that we’re rapidly moving toward two Americas—a wealthy elite, and an increasingly large underclass that lacks the skills to succeed.

This division tears at the very fabric of our society. Nevertheless, there’s little national urgency to fix its underlying causes. Unlike a bad economy, poor educational achievement creeps up on us. Right now, if you were running for office, would you be more concerned with unemployment or education? Also, unlike terrorism, an educational crisis has a different impact on the powerful than it does on most of society. Their children, who are in private schools or elite public schools, receive a decent education, so it’s hard to get them fully engaged in the broader national debate. Plus, unlike in health care, for example, where we perceive the quality of care to be good and worry instead about controlling costs and covering the uninsured, in education, despite massive increases in expenditure, we don’t see improved results. That leads too many people to suspect that poverty is destiny, that schools can make only a small difference, and that therefore we’re unable to fix this problem, regardless of its seriousness. So why try?

If the forces behind reform seem scattered and weak, those defending the status quo—the unions, the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the vendors—are well organized and well financed. Having spent eight years trying to ignite a revolution in New York City’s schools under Bloomberg’s leadership, I am convinced that without a major realignment of political forces, we won’t get the dramatic improvements our children need.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Jahoclave » Thu May 26, 2011 8:29 pm UTC

American school system a floundering piece of shit. It's like the constant defunding and rhetoric that teachers are incompetent tards that don't deserve to be payed money are apparently amazingly shitty ways to achieve success.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby jesseewiak » Thu May 26, 2011 8:33 pm UTC

Actually, the truth is, I've never really been convinced that there is a real problem with our schools. Most of them work just fine, and most kids learn well enough in them. I'd imagine that better funding mechanisms would probably help, but we aren't really far behind other countries, those other countries just find effective ways to avoid counting their dummies. India and China simply don't bother measuring lower-income students, and Britian, Japan, France and Germany shunt them off to 'trade schools', where they aren't factored into statistics. The largest problem is simple - child poverty. We have twice the child poverty rate of most Western European nations and that accounts for almost all the difference in various test scores. But of course, since you can't fix child poverty by destroying unions, those who want to get their claws on the 350 billion dollar "industry" that is education don't bring that up much.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Dark567 » Thu May 26, 2011 8:34 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote: It's like the constant defunding...


Article wrote:the gains we have made in improving our schools are negligible—even though we have doubled our spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) on K–12 public education.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby LaserGuy » Thu May 26, 2011 8:39 pm UTC

This article is pretty much Waiting for "Superman" in text form.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby jesseewiak » Thu May 26, 2011 8:40 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:
Jahoclave wrote: It's like the constant defunding...


Article wrote:the gains we have made in improving our schools are negligible—even though we have doubled our spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) on K–12 public education.


Yes, and how much of that increased spending has gone to more administrators, spending to study for standarized tests, and to schools that already have plenty of cash instead of to actual programs that make a difference? The defunding is real. Go to any school district outside of the wealthy suburbs and talk to a 20-year veteran in teaching and ask how things are different.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Heisenberg » Thu May 26, 2011 8:40 pm UTC

After we reorganized the system and minimized the power of the 32 local superintendents—the go-to people for politicians under the past regime—a local official called me and asked, “Whom do I call for constituent services after your reorg?” I replied, “What’s that?” Impatiently, he asked, “How do I get a kid into a school when I need to?” I jokingly answered, “Oh, we must have left out that office in the reorg” (actually thinking, silly me, that the school system should use equitable rules for admission). He said, “Go fuck yourself,” and hung up.

Nice example from page 2.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Jahoclave » Thu May 26, 2011 8:53 pm UTC

Dark567 wrote:
Jahoclave wrote: It's like the constant defunding...


Article wrote:the gains we have made in improving our schools are negligible—even though we have doubled our spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) on K–12 public education.

Yeah, but it doesn't mention since when. And, there's also the matter of allocation, if the money isn't going to instruction it's not really a gain. Nor does it demonstrate if that money was going to wealthier suburban districts or poverty stricken districts that needed the money.

And look, a slam against teacher's unions that objected to a shitty metric for student evaluation being used as an evaluation tool of teachers. Color me surprised, especially when the metric is flawed, especially when you're dealing with students coming from poverty and immigration.

Yet, rather than create a system that attracts and rewards excellent teachers—and that imposes consequences for ineffective or lazy ones—we treat all teachers as if they were identical widgets and their performance didn’t matter.

I love that, bitch about benefit packages and salary and then call for a system that attracts excellent teachers. Well shit, I wonder what might attract good teachers.

And considering that the universal average for a teacher is five years, the nobody gets fired mantra is a little bit, well, pointless.

Plus, really no mention that the system itself is pretty damn shitty for teaching. Let's just continue to rag on teachers because that's politically expedient.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby LaserGuy » Thu May 26, 2011 8:59 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:And considering that the universal average for a teacher is five years, the nobody gets fired mantra is a little bit, well, pointless.


Well, no. The people who are leaving in 5 years or less are not necessarily the same people who we might want to fire. My understanding, in fact, is that most of the people that leave teaching quickly tend to be the ones that we would rather keep.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Jahoclave » Thu May 26, 2011 9:02 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
Jahoclave wrote:And considering that the universal average for a teacher is five years, the nobody gets fired mantra is a little bit, well, pointless.


Well, no. The people who are leaving in 5 years or less are not necessarily the same people who we might want to fire. My understanding, in fact, is that most of the people that leave teaching quickly tend to be the ones that we would rather keep.

But it does point out that the idea that once you start teaching you're in the luxury lane to benefits is a misnomer. There's a high turnover rate. Which, if teacher's are the greedy bastards they're being made out to be, contradicts the argument, because they're not staying to see those benefits.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby jesseewiak » Thu May 26, 2011 9:08 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
Jahoclave wrote:And considering that the universal average for a teacher is five years, the nobody gets fired mantra is a little bit, well, pointless.


Well, no. The people who are leaving in 5 years or less are not necessarily the same people who we might want to fire. My understanding, in fact, is that most of the people that leave teaching quickly tend to be the ones that we would rather keep.


Only if you believe that teachers are special in that they're the only industry where they like having colleagues who are no good at their job. Even people who work at McDonald's hate when the fry cook sucks. But yet, we're supposed to believe that teacher's are so committed to unionism they'll put up with horrible teachers.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Heisenberg » Thu May 26, 2011 9:08 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:And look, a slam against teacher's unions that objected to a shitty metric for student evaluation being used as an evaluation tool of teachers. Color me surprised, especially when the metric is flawed, especially when you're dealing with students coming from poverty and immigration.

You know whose performance is judged by shitty metrics? Fucking everyone. Except teachers, who get a free pass to do whatever they want, short of criminal behavior. I'm tired of the "Well, THAT metric is somewhat flawed" bitchfest. If you have a better idea, I'd love to hear it. Or maybe we could use *gasp* SEVERAL metrics to judge performance.

If pitchers started outlawing the calculation of ERAs because they weren't a perfect metric, it'd be analagous to teachers bitching about a metric which does take into account student poverty, their incoming education levels, and generally washes out all the little things to bitch about over a statistically significant sample.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby jesseewiak » Thu May 26, 2011 9:13 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:
Jahoclave wrote:And look, a slam against teacher's unions that objected to a shitty metric for student evaluation being used as an evaluation tool of teachers. Color me surprised, especially when the metric is flawed, especially when you're dealing with students coming from poverty and immigration.

You know whose performance is judged by shitty metrics? Fucking everyone. Except teachers, who get a free pass to do whatever they want, short of criminal behavior. I'm tired of the "Well, THAT metric is somewhat flawed" bitchfest. If you have a better idea, I'd love to hear it. Or maybe we could use *gasp* SEVERAL metrics to judge performance.

If pitchers started outlawing the calculation of ERAs because they weren't a perfect metric, it'd be analagous to teachers bitching about a metric which does take into account student poverty, their incoming education levels, and generally washes out all the little things to bitch about over a statistically significant sample.


Actually, there are plenty of other metrics out there teachers have no problem with. It's just they don't lead to for-profit educational corporations making lots of money of charter schools and vouchers, so their ideas are ignored. But, it's easier to blame the teachers, since one back in fifth grade didn't treat you like a special snowflake.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Heisenberg » Thu May 26, 2011 9:15 pm UTC

jesseewiak wrote:Actually, there are plenty of other metrics out there teachers have no problem with.
Please, enlighten me. The dozen or so teachers I hang out with regularly are apparently unaware of these miraculous metrics.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Jahoclave » Thu May 26, 2011 9:20 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:
Jahoclave wrote:And look, a slam against teacher's unions that objected to a shitty metric for student evaluation being used as an evaluation tool of teachers. Color me surprised, especially when the metric is flawed, especially when you're dealing with students coming from poverty and immigration.

You know whose performance is judged by shitty metrics? Fucking everyone. Except teachers, who get a free pass to do whatever they want, short of criminal behavior. I'm tired of the "Well, THAT metric is somewhat flawed" bitchfest. If you have a better idea, I'd love to hear it. Or maybe we could use *gasp* SEVERAL metrics to judge performance.

If pitchers started outlawing the calculation of ERAs because they weren't a perfect metric, it'd be analagous to teachers bitching about a metric which does take into account student poverty, their incoming education levels, and generally washes out all the little things to bitch about over a statistically significant sample.

Actual evaluations on teaching. The problem with the test metrics is that they almost never account for things like getting a kid who is a recent immigrant in the class. The No Child Left Behind doesn't, which is one of the reasons it's an absolute hindrance to education. The other problem is they tend to propose using these tests as evaluation metrics without fully creating how the test will be used as a metric. Nor are they willing to evaluate it as a metric before implementation. They just want to do the expedient thing for political points rather than develop a real system.

First you need to develop a fair test--eliminating cultural and gender bias as best as possible. Then you have to adjust for where one is teaching and what one is teaching. There's a notable difference in gains by wealthy students and students from poverty. So if you don't compensate for that, teachers in poverty stricken districts are going to get dinged for not matching up. So if you don't do that, you know where good teachers aren't going to want to teach because it'll affect their perfomance evals, salary, benefits, and even having a job? The place we need them most.

The point is, the metrics proposed don't account for those differences, hell, they barely even explain how they'll use them.

Not to mention that treating teachers as money grubbing incompetent bastards is part of the reason you're never going to attract the people to the profession that you want. Then you have all the mind numbing administrative bullshit they're expected to put up with. Oh, and the demonstratively stupid methods of whole word and new new math.

Perhaps we should take education policy out of the hands of lawyers? That'd probably be a much more positive first step. Making education more independent of politicians.

And what Jessee said. And, like I said, actual performance reviews by peers and administrators--people better qualified to evaluate and more likely to be aware of the particular situation. Also, surprisingly better able to offer meaningful feedback on how to improve.

You could also make the tenure processes more like universities.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Dauric » Thu May 26, 2011 9:27 pm UTC

Query: Would the article be better titled: "Failure of New York Schools" than "...American Schools". Is this more an issue with New York than it is with say.. Denver (Co) or Cheyenne (Wy)? Is there a Big City,/ Small Town disparity?

It's an interesting article with some interesting things to say, but I'm not sure that conclusions drawn from (IIRC) one of the two most populous cities in the U.S. is necessarily applicable to everywhere. Or maybe it is...? I don't know.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Heisenberg » Thu May 26, 2011 9:32 pm UTC

Jahoclave wrote:Perhaps we should take education policy out of the hands of lawyers? That'd probably be a much more positive first step. Making education more independent of politicians.

And unions? From what I understand, they do plenty of lawyering also.
Jahoclave wrote:And what Jessee said. And, like I said, actual performance reviews by peers and administrators--people better qualified to evaluate and more likely to be aware of the particular situation. Also, surprisingly better able to offer meaningful feedback on how to improve.

Sounds good to me. I'd also like to see the kind of testing you mentioned as a fallback, though, to avoid cronyism and to allow teachers to show their worthiness objectively.
Jahoclave wrote:You could also make the tenure processes more like universities.

Like how? Making it harder for teachers to get? I'm all for that. Let's not involve journal publications, though. Booooring.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Telchar » Thu May 26, 2011 9:35 pm UTC

I'd actually like to know if the education crisis statistics are actually similar to average lifespan statistics.

IE: Most of the gain in average lifespan statistics over the last 500 years has been a decrease in infant mortality. Similarly, it's possible that an increase in the low income population/urban sprawl is what's driving statistics down. So, rather than being a total systemic failure on our part it would be an indictment of our inability to shift our education priorities and fund education properly (as something not based on property tax).
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Dark567 » Thu May 26, 2011 9:37 pm UTC

Dauric wrote:Query: Would the article be better titled: "Failure of New York Schools" than "...American Schools". Is this more an issue with New York than it is with say.. Denver (Co) or Cheyenne (Wy)? Is there a Big City,/ Small Town disparity?
I would probably name it something closer to the "Failure of Urban schools" as from what I know those problems are pretty common among urban schools around the country, but is a different set of problems then a lot of Rural schools have.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Heisenberg » Thu May 26, 2011 9:39 pm UTC

Article wrote:If that’s the case, then instead of relying on the kind of group-think that pits charter schools against non-charter schools, shouldn’t we be asking why some schools get much better results, and focus on how we can replicate them?

This is absolutely right. Instead of trying to shut down 2 schools because one does well and one does poorly, districts should use charter schools as the R&D wing of education, implementing policies that work, and ignoring ones that don't.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby The Reaper » Thu May 26, 2011 9:40 pm UTC

Here's some of what we have going on in Texas regarding funding:
http://education-themonitor.themonitor. ... sparities/

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Jahoclave » Thu May 26, 2011 9:44 pm UTC

Heisenberg wrote:
Jahoclave wrote:Perhaps we should take education policy out of the hands of lawyers? That'd probably be a much more positive first step. Making education more independent of politicians.

And unions? From what I understand, they do plenty of lawyering also.
Jahoclave wrote:And what Jessee said. And, like I said, actual performance reviews by peers and administrators--people better qualified to evaluate and more likely to be aware of the particular situation. Also, surprisingly better able to offer meaningful feedback on how to improve.

Sounds good to me. I'd also like to see the kind of testing you mentioned as a fallback, though, to avoid cronyism and to allow teachers to show their worthiness objectively.
Jahoclave wrote:You could also make the tenure processes more like universities.

Like how? Making it harder for teachers to get? I'm all for that. Let's not involve journal publications, though. Booooring.

Well, not so much unions, but from people who actually work within education--so there'd be a lot more collusion between universities and say the department of education as well as representatives of the k-12 system. Basically, the point it to implement methods of instruction that are effective rather than politically expedient. And if you take it out of the hands of people who get voted for it gives the unions a bit less of a blackmailing power. That and as teacher's they're likely going to be more receptive to ideas because they're not so much an indictment of the teachers, but rather an effort to develop better practices that can be used to be a more effective teacher. More of, people are getting results with this method, here's how they're teaching it. Let's focus on it a bit more and see if it works. Oh hey, this is getting good results, let's really start promoting this and working from this. So in other words, you start getting more collaboration between the people who are training teachers and the k-12 system.

I.E. it's not a demand for change for the sake of change, but change because we've found something that works a bit better. That and you can be a bit more controversial about education, which then allows for the challenging of views and better emphasis on critical evaluation.

And you wouldn't really have publications, because teachers aren't generally do that. But you would include those performance evals, and it wouldn't be a matter of time served. There'd be some sort of board--likely fellow teachers of some measure and perhaps another administrative review--that would provide a vote. I.E. you'd get a recommendation for approval from peers and a final vote by an objective party. You'd also have teachers putting together a portfolio that demonstrates why they are a good teacher worthy of being granted tenure. So, you know, demonstrating things they've done to better their teaching.

And, I'd probably push this process out to 7-10 years. Because, one of the other things is that it takes about 5 years to really get a handle on teaching. Which, might also be another reason to change how we train teachers to start with. And the support provided for starting teachers.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Wodashin » Thu May 26, 2011 10:00 pm UTC

Funding isn't the biggest concern. It's the very way we do our education here.

Other countries do MUCH more with MUCH less. The whole thing needs an overhaul.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Silknor » Thu May 26, 2011 10:29 pm UTC

@Jahoclave:

I don't think you understand how proper value-added works (and I can't blame you, the unions constantly mislead about it). You say teachers get penalized for having students, who are, for any number of reasons, below average on the tests. This could be because they're immigrants, or poor, or the test is racially biased. What you don't understand is that value added evaluation works not by looking at a horizontal comparison, but by a vertical comparison.

It would be simple, and absolutely wrong, to say teacher A in rich district has an average score of 8, but teacher B in a poor district has an average score of 3, so teacher A is better. It's intuitive though, after all parents do it with schools when they move (this school has higher scores, so I want my kid there). And it's exactly what opponents of testing want you to think.

But this is a horizontal comparison, not a vertical. What you want to do it compare the same student year to year. On average, gains above what a similarly situated student gains in a year can be attributed to a teacher more effective than average. Likewise, gains below what we expect they should gain can be attributed to a teacher less effective than average.

For example, Student A has a score of 3.4 after 3rd grade and 4.7 after 4th grade. If we expect them, based on looking at similar students, to gain only 1 on the test, then we can say with a level of confidence depending on things like sample size and other factors that their 4th grade teacher was effective enough to get them an additional .3. If however Student A had a score of 4 after 4th grade, then they're .4 behind where we expected they'd be, and so can say with some confidence that their teacher was ineffective (for that student, to evaluate the teacher, you look that gain/loss beyond expected for each of their students).

With this system, even if poor students (for example) do worse in general, that doesn't make it impossible to compare teachers who have more poor students to those who have less.

But it serves their interests for anti-testing advocates (including teachers unions) to promote a flawed understanding of testing, since it's really clear the horizontal version is deeply flawed, if that's what people think of, they'll oppose testing.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Jahoclave » Thu May 26, 2011 10:51 pm UTC

No, I think you don't understand the issue. Teachers and schools get blamed for that very thing. Just look at no child left behind. Yet, for some reason we're supposed to believe that suddenly they're going to look at things by taking in actual variables into account? And, unless you're going to dump a very large amount of money into providing and tabulating the actual data needed to accurately place students in the metric, you're not going to get the evaluation you need. So, what you're saying is spend less resources on instruction and more on a bullshit test. So, rather than teach a subject we have teachers teaching to a test because they want a good evaluation. Even same student year to year doesn't really work unless you're also going to adjust for the curve in gains. But until they're willing to say, point out that they're willing to address all that before they implement a system, maybe I might believe that's how the evaluations will be done. Also, maybe the student was going through a parental divorce? Going to account for that variable? Maybe they had a serious illness? going to account for that?

Have you ever really looked at achievement data points, particularly in relation to race and poverty? I don't think you really understand the complications that would have to be done to do what you suggest.

Besides that, such a system does nothing to actually correct the problem of learning achievement of poverty stricken students or produce better teachers. It's part of the blame the teacher problem that we have. It's easy to blame the unions, but not so easy to blame institutionalized poverty, because then we might have to, you know, do a better of financially supporting those districts.

More testing is profoundly not the answer and diverts resources from instruction and diverts instruction from education.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Cleverbeans » Thu May 26, 2011 11:19 pm UTC

It's amusing to see an article griping out unions when all of the top performing countries in the PISA have very strong teachers unions, and the five states in the US where unions are illegal have the lowest test scores and highest dropout rates. I also think it's interesting to note that Finland has no testing or exams except the matriculation exam at the end of secondary education. Teachers develop their own evaluation methods, and don't even assign numerical grades instead relying on qualitative feedback. The fundamental mistake the US being of course the consistent political meddling with the education system instead of trusting their educators and giving them the autonomy they require to do the job right.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Silknor » Thu May 26, 2011 11:43 pm UTC

Jahoclave, we disagree on much less than you think we do here, and your insistence on grouping all types of testing together is most of the reason why.

The existence of proper testing does not mean that all testing is useful. No Child Left Behind is a perfect example of deeply flawed testing. Denying a school money because it is low performing is exactly the type of horizontal testing I decry (this school has worse test than others, therefore it does a bad job, is incredibly wrong).

Is testing expensive? Perhaps. But so it paying bad teachers increasing amounts of money to stay in the system until they are fully vested in their pension. And that expense hurts students.

Will teachers have to teach to the test? Yes, of course. That's not an argument against testing, it's a reason why it's important to have good tests.

Even same student year to year doesn't really work unless you're also going to adjust for the curve in gains.

Adjust for the curve in gains? I'm not sure what you're saying here. But I can't think of any adjustment that would be hard to do. Clarify please?

maybe the student was going through a parental divorce? Going to account for that variable? Maybe they had a serious illness? going to account for that?


This only matters IF one teacher had a disproportionate number of students in that situation. One student doing poorly isn't going to have a major effect on a teachers scores (Esp. with today's class sizes), because an individual students scores only matter in so far as they affect the average. And if this occurs, there's no reason the teacher can't bring that up with an administrator and ensure a fluke doesn't affect them when it shouldn't.

I have looked at the correlation of race and poverty on test scores, and they pose no difficulty to a value added testing system.

Nothing about value added testing conflicts with providing more resources to poor districts. And while it doesn't produce better teachers per se, what it does do is allow us to more easily identify better teachers (and reward them, thus attracting more talented people to teaching) while identifying worse teachers for training or dismissal. Unsurprisingly, part of getting better teachers is to get rid of the bad ones! And to do that, you need to identify them.

If you believe that teachers have 0 impact on student's learning (or test scores), then it makes sense to accuse those who want good testing as blaming the teachers. After all if teachers are powerless to you know, teach, no sense blaming them. But if teachers can impact their student's learning, then it should be obvious that some are going to do so better than others.

Will testing address the problem that poor students do worse in school? Well it might help if it can boost the quality of teachers, but it does nothing to stop more funding from going to the schools. But it doesn't need to address this to be successful. If it can raise teacher quality across the board, then that's a win even if it had no impact on the rich-poor achievement gap. Testing can only be a small part of the solution to that, and that's fine. It doesn't have to fix every problem with our schools to be worthwhile.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Dark567 » Thu May 26, 2011 11:53 pm UTC

Silknor wrote:Will teachers have to teach to the test? Yes, of course. That's not an argument against testing, it's a reason why it's important to have good tests.
If tests are created that the only way to do well is by having mastered the material, the only way to teach to the test, is to have the students master the material.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby CorruptUser » Thu May 26, 2011 11:59 pm UTC

jesseewiak wrote:Actually, the truth is, I've never really been convinced that there is a real problem with our schools. Most of them work just fine, and most kids learn well enough in them. I'd imagine that better funding mechanisms would probably help, but we aren't really far behind other countries, those other countries just find effective ways to avoid counting their dummies. India and China simply don't bother measuring lower-income students, and Britian, Japan, France and Germany shunt them off to 'trade schools', where they aren't factored into statistics. The largest problem is simple - child poverty. We have twice the child poverty rate of most Western European nations and that accounts for almost all the difference in various test scores. But of course, since you can't fix child poverty by destroying unions, those who want to get their claws on the 350 billion dollar "industry" that is education don't bring that up much.



Hooray, I feel better about my country. Alabama is still an embarrassment though, in education, obesity, and infant mortality. EDIT: Mississippi is worse.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Bubbles McCoy » Fri May 27, 2011 12:05 am UTC

Jahoclave wrote:Have you ever really looked at achievement data points, particularly in relation to race and poverty? I don't think you really understand the complications that would have to be done to do what you suggest.

What impact would this have on value-added analysis? As it stands, I know California administers tests at the start and end of the year. This kind of analysis looks at a single teacher, then compares the scores of each student at the beginning and end of the year, and then gives an average amount gained/lost by all their students based off of what percentiles they were ranked in. When the LA Times performed & published value-added analysis on the states data, the official union response was to call for a boycott of the paper.

And yes, this would not fix whatever effects poverty has on education. I am at a loss as to why you believe that should somehow be grounds of ruling out any attempt at improving teacher quality. Perhaps this is not the best means of measuring quality, but I don't see how ignoring teacher quality is going to help anyone. Some means of measuring and dealing with how good a teacher is is completely necessary to make finding and keeping excellent teachers possible.

As to poorly funded schools - I would need to see a thorough breakdown of per school spending to be absolutely certain of this, but a while back there was a statewide change to funding which completely decoupled local funds from revenue from the area, leading to some pretty poor districts with substantially larger funds than rich districts. Near as I know, the long term effect isn't really all that significant; you'll find schools with $8,000/pupil well outpacing those with $12,000+/pupil in tests. I'll try to assemble it in a more usable form later, but a good idea of school quality can be found here and of spending here. I doubt you would find a correlation against spending or anything, but I find it a dubious claim that simply spending more can even approach solving education woes.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Obby » Fri May 27, 2011 2:16 am UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:It's amusing to see an article griping out unions when all of the top performing countries in the PISA have very strong teachers unions, and the five states in the US where unions are illegal have the lowest test scores and highest dropout rates.


No they don't. According to the following link, using 2010 SAT scores, the states that have made teacher's unions illegal (SC, GA, TX, NC, VA) are ranked 49, 48, 45, 38 and 34 (respectively). Not great, sure, but certainly not nearly as strong a correlation as you want to imply.

http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/p ... s-by-state
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Dark567 » Fri May 27, 2011 2:43 am UTC

Obby wrote:
Cleverbeans wrote:It's amusing to see an article griping out unions when all of the top performing countries in the PISA have very strong teachers unions, and the five states in the US where unions are illegal have the lowest test scores and highest dropout rates.


No they don't. According to the following link, using 2010 SAT scores, the states that have made teacher's unions illegal (SC, GA, TX, NC, VA) are ranked 49, 48, 45, 38 and 34 (respectively). Not great, sure, but certainly not nearly as strong a correlation as you want to imply.

http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/p ... s-by-state

On the same point:
http://politifact.com/truth-o-meter/sta ... -scores-v/
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Garm » Fri May 27, 2011 3:00 am UTC

jesseewiak wrote:Actually, the truth is, I've never really been convinced that there is a real problem with our schools. Most of them work just fine, and most kids learn well enough in them. I'd imagine that better funding mechanisms would probably help, but we aren't really far behind other countries, those other countries just find effective ways to avoid counting their dummies. India and China simply don't bother measuring lower-income students, and Britian, Japan, France and Germany shunt them off to 'trade schools', where they aren't factored into statistics. The largest problem is simple - child poverty. We have twice the child poverty rate of most Western European nations and that accounts for almost all the difference in various test scores. But of course, since you can't fix child poverty by destroying unions, those who want to get their claws on the 350 billion dollar "industry" that is education don't bring that up much.


Maybe someone will correct me if I'm wrong but from my understanding in Germany, the "trade schools" that you're denigrating are what churn out engineers. You go to Gymnasium if you're going to become an academic.

I do agree with your point about child poverty tho' I don't think that's the largest problem. I'm with Jahoclave on this one, our metrics for measuring progress are horrible. Teaching to the test is often necessary to save your job but gives the children very little in the way of an education. I taught ACT classes for the Princeton Review for a long time. The primary component of the class isn't teaching kids things they need to know, it's teaching them ways to game the system. I taught a little bit of trig (cuz it was fun and easy) and use of the Oxford Comma, everything else was learning about how the test worked and how to defeat it. After a while it wears on your soul. My AP European History class was similar. My teacher was excellent and I learned a bit of history during the class, mostly I learned about the test. At some point during the semester I remember her saying that it had been three years since the document based question (DBQ) was about women and so this test would have a DBQ that covered some specific bit of women's history. She was right and she prepared us very well for the test. I don't think that was the best use of my class time, however.

I think another huge problems is the constant attempts at school reform. I remember kids in Stanford's STEP (teacher education) program expressing their annoyance with the fact that the curriculum was changing every year. Every time the tests change, the curriculum changes as well. Then, of course, there are the well documented problems with school boards like those in Texas, with their texts skewed by their ideology.

Sure, teachers unions can be a part of the problem. Too often I've seen the leaders balk at change instead of trying to help mold the change to be something of their liking but the way that the teachers get jerked around, who can blame them?
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Cleverbeans » Fri May 27, 2011 3:47 am UTC

Obby wrote:No they don't. According to the following link, using 2010 SAT scores, the states that have made teacher's unions illegal (SC, GA, TX, NC, VA) are ranked 49, 48, 45, 38 and 34 (respectively). Not great, sure, but certainly not nearly as strong a correlation as you want to imply.


That's more than strong enough to notice that unions are simply not the problem with US education, even ignore that all top performing countries have strong unions. It's boggling that the debate around education always centers around completely irrelevant details like how to evaluate teachers, how much money is being spent, how many hours are being put in, or why unions are evil. All of these factors are obviously irrelevant to anyone who's bothered to look at the education systems in top performing countries like South Korea or Finland.

Just for comparison, Finland spends ~$1k less per student than the US despite providing all books and materials for primary school students as well as meals. All teachers are unionized, and they don't start school till they're 7 years old and students spend half the time in school on any given day as the average US students. They have minimal testing, and the only standardized test is the matriculation exam for students who are going on to university.

Teachers are given autonomy over their curricula and choose how they evaluate their students, but they don't assign numerical or letter grades instead relying on descriptive feedback. They also require all their teachers to have a master's degree(5 year program), and recruit from the top 10% of university graduates. Their teachers make less money than their US counterparts, but are compensated in other ways like having private offices, better student/teacher ratios and freedom to teach as they see fit.

They do have some private schools, but they must be approved through a government body, receive the same funding as a school of comparable size in the public system, are not allowed to accept tuition fees and are required to provide the same social services as public schools such as transportation and meals for their students.

Compare that with the suggestions these morons keep pumping out. Break unions, increase standardized testing, stringently enforce standardized curriculum, increase budgets and privatize education. It's baffling how anyone can come to such ridiculous conclusions with so much evidence against it. Of course they do at least have the excuse of being educated in the US to fall back on...
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby CorruptUser » Fri May 27, 2011 4:00 am UTC

I'm most opposed to the voucher system, etc. If a school is doing miserably, the solution is to cut its funds entirely? It's almost as if the people in favor of the vouchers are trying to create 'separate but equal' schools in this country.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Garm » Fri May 27, 2011 4:33 am UTC

CorruptUser wrote:I'm most opposed to the voucher system, etc. If a school is doing miserably, the solution is to cut its funds entirely? It's almost as if the people in favor of the vouchers are trying to create 'separate but equal' schools in this country.


Also, too: There's precious little evidence that vouchers work while there's some pretty good evidence that they don't. Same with charter schools.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Silknor » Fri May 27, 2011 4:33 am UTC

Cleverbeans wrote:Compare that with the suggestions these morons keep pumping out. Break unions, increase standardized testing, stringently enforce standardized curriculum, increase budgets and privatize education. It's baffling how anyone can come to such ridiculous conclusions with so much evidence against it. Of course they do at least have the excuse of being educated in the US to fall back on...


Noting that Finland does well on tests and has X features is not in any sense strong evidence of the superiority of X features. You don't even have to know that correlation is not causality for that, you have to see that looking at a sample size of two, while conveniently ignoring other factors (such as the fact that almost everyone in Finland speaks Finnish as their native language, which is undoubtedly a plus compared to the United States, or the fact the the US has a child poverty rate more than 4 times that of Finland), cannot be sufficient evidence.

If all of the US' teachers came from the top 10% (I've heard top 1/3rd, not 10%, but either way it's far better than in the US), I'm sure that US schools would be better. And that's probably a large contributor to Finland's education success. And that's one of the goals of testing, merit pay, and weakening the seniority system (with its resulting First In Last Out). If you can identify the better teachers, you can pay them more and prevent them from being laid off simply for being newest when cuts have to be made. That in turn helps attract better teachers.

And other differences with Finland's system, such as keeping students in the same school for primary and secondary education, and keeping classes together with the same teacher for multiple years, can be done along with this, if we have reason to believe they're effective.
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Jahoclave » Fri May 27, 2011 4:59 am UTC

Since I'm somewhat intoxicated I'll leave this at two things. The curve I was talking about is that as they get into higher grades they start to see less improvement in terms of education.

And two, if you're trying to attract good teachers you're going to have to start increasing starting salaries, improve the prestige, and stop treating teachers like shit--ergo, this blame the teachers mantra and forcing them to jump through so many administrative hoops has to stop. Ed majors are increasingly at the bottom of the barrel in terms of exit exams in universities. So unless you're actually intent on attracting better and more competent individuals, and that means treating them with more respect, you're just going to continue to get shit.

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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby Silknor » Fri May 27, 2011 5:17 am UTC

Ok, the first thing is no problem, just include grade as one of the variables in your regression (eg. who is similarly situated), you'd want to do this even if you didn't have a good reason to think that learning varies with age.

Yes, treating teachers with respect is important. And some don't. But I don't think saying that a system where pay and job security are based on merit instead of seniority is disrespectful to teachers. Saying teachers can affect their student's outcomes, even if only to a partial degree is not disrespectful. But some anti-testing advocates almost seem to rely on the idea that teachers can't affect outcomes, and therefore it's not fair to use outcomes to evaluate teachers. This seems actually disrespectful.

Saying testing is good is not blaming the teachers, any more than performance evaluations in any profession are blaming the workers. Some teachers are going to be bad at it. This might be disrespectful to those teachers, and this might be blaming them as part of the reasons their students learn less. It's also true, unless you want to claim all teachers are equally skilled. But I see a policy that protects bad teachers that have been working longer when layoffs come as far more disrespectful, only it's disrespectful to the better, but newer, teachers who get laid off because they don't have seniority. And that form of disrespect concretely hurts student outcomes.

Would paying teachers more initially help attract better teachers? Absolutely, and we should do that. And you could even do that by reducing backloading of pay, thus increasing starting salaries while decreasing the incentive for teachers who are burned out to continue until their pensions are fully vested. Though you could also do it by increasing total compensation.

I think we should pay teachers more initially, and respect them. But neither of these precludes using student outcomes to help identify effective teachers, and then rewarding those teachers, not those who have been around longer, with more money, job security, and responsibility in the form of teacher mentoring (for example).
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Re: The Failure of American Schools

Postby nitePhyyre » Fri May 27, 2011 5:47 am UTC

Jahoclave, did you even bother to read the article? Everything you said is either thoroughly discussed in the article, or completely unrelated to the article itself.

+1 Silknor, I had a post written up but you said it better.

The only thing I have left to say is that a lot of the disrespect teachers get is because we've all had bad teachers. Most of my teachers were average. But if I had to make a tally of the exceptionally good teachers compared to the exceptionally bad ones, the bad column would be longer. Being able to fire incompetent teachers isn't playing " blame the teachers" or "forcing them to jump through so many administrative hoops" it is common sense. The union fights even this.

I've always thought that if we fixed education, raised a population to be civic minded and educated, that most of our other problems would fix themselves. I believe that education is the lynch pin. If the political system prevents fixing the education system, where does that leave us?
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