"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New York Times Continues to Ignore National Academy Warning on Race to the Top (RTTT)

On April 27 of this year, the White House Press Office offered a press release that offered this:

Today, President Obama will speak before the Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Sciences, and discuss his plans to reinvigorate the American scientific enterprise through a bold commitment to basic and applied research, innovation, and education. . . . .
. . . .
  • The Administration’s $5 billion "Race To The Top" fund will encourage states to improve the quality and supply of math and science teachers, including alternative routes into teaching for math and science teachers and proposals to upgrade teacher training and promote and reward effective teachers. States can also use Recovery Act funds to modernize and renovate new science labs. The Administration is also supporting investments in scholarships to attract and prepare high-quality math and science teachers through the Robert Noyce Scholarship Program and other investments in student aid, a push for rigorous, internationally-benchmarked standards, high-quality curricula aligned to the standards, and better assessments.
Now exactly 6 months later, the National Academy has had a chance to examine the Gates-Broad-Walton plan for American teachers and schools. And they are not impressed. So unimpressed, in fact, that the New York Times and the Washington Post have chosen to conspicuously ignore the recent report issued three weeks ago tomorrow (October 7) and accompanying letter to Secretary Duncan, which outlined the Academy's serious concerns regarding the unscientific approach that USDOE (Gates and Broad) have taken in imposing their plan, packaged as it is with multimillion dollar bribes that starving state departments of education find impossible to turn down.

For any reporter interested in printing the facts, rather than Bill Gates's blathering, here is the link to the Press Release, where the entire report can be downloaded:
WASHINGTON -- The Race to the Top initiative -- a $4.35 billion grant program included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to encourage state-level education reforms -- should require rigorous evaluations of the reform efforts it funds, says a new report from the National Research Council. The initiative should support research based on data that links student test scores with their teachers, but should not prematurely promote the use of value-added approaches -- which evaluate teachers based on gains in their students' performance -- to reward or punish teachers. Too little is known about the accuracy of these methods to base high-stakes decisions on them right now, the report says.

The U.S. Department of Education is developing regulations that explain how the $4.35 billion will be awarded. The National Research Council's report offers recommendations to help the department revise these guidelines.

The report strongly supports rigorous evaluations of programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. Only with careful evaluations -- which allow effective reforms to be identified and perhaps used elsewhere -- can the initiative have a lasting impact. Without them, any benefits of this one-time expenditure on innovation are likely to end when the funding ends, the report says.

Evaluations must be appropriate to the specific program being assessed and will be easier to design if grantees provide a "theory of action" for any proposed reform -- a logical chain of reasoning explaining how the innovation will lead to improved student learning. Evaluations should be designed before programs begin so baseline data can be collected; they should also provide short-term feedback to aid midcourse adjustments and long-term data to judge the program's impact. While standardized tests are helpful in measuring a reform's effects, evaluations should rely on multiple indicators of what students know and can do, not just a single test score, the report adds.

The Department of Education's proposed guidelines encourage states to create systems that link data on student achievement to teachers. The report applauds this step, arguing that linking this data is essential to conducting research about the best ways to evaluate teachers.

One way of evaluating teachers, currently the subject of intense interest and research, are value-added approaches, which typically compare a student's scores going into a grade with his or her scores coming out of it, in order to assess how much "value" a year with a particular teacher added to the student's educational experience. The report expresses concern that the department's proposed regulations place excessive emphasis on value-added approaches. Too little research has been done on these methods' validity to base high-stakes decisions about teachers on them. A student's scores may be affected by many factors other than a teacher -- his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support -- and value-added techniques have not yet found a good way to account for these other elements.

The report also cautions against using the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a federal assessment that helps measure overall U.S. progress in education, to evaluate programs funded by the Race to the Top initiative. NAEP surveys the knowledge of students across the nation in three grades with respect to a broad range of content and skills and is not aligned with the curriculum of any particular state. Although effective at monitoring broad trends, it is not designed to detect the specific effects of targeted interventions like those to be funded by Race to the Top.

The study was sponsored by the National Research Council. The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council are private, nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter. The Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. A committee roster follows. . . .

1 comment:

  1. I assume you've seen this