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

Thursday, March 10, 2011

An intercepted memo

Memo from Bill to Arne:

Our progress thus far and plans for the future

The current Blueprint provided a strong beginning. The Blueprint calls for a substantial increase in testing, far beyond the level required for NCLB. We will test more subjects (eventually all, I hope), do pre (fall) and post (spring) tests in order to have value-added scores unaffected by summer, and interim tests all along the way, as the Achieve people are already doing with PARCC. The Department of Ed's $170 million is certainly well spent there. Their testing plan will reach over 60% of US schools. In addition, the technology report demands quantification and a demonstration of cost benefits for all aspects of education.

The public reaction has been far better than expected. There have been practically no protests of this gigantic increase, even though nearly everyone agrees that NCLB required too much testing. We deserve some of the credit for this: We have kept teachers so busy that they have little time or energy to study current issues and obscure documents, and we have kept the potential protesters busy with a number of pronouncements that we knew they would find outrageous.

Helpful red herrings

Examples include our support for charters, one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of red herrings. Waiting for Superman promoted the view that all charters are wonderful and all public schools are bad, and protesters have devoted a great deal of energy and print trying to show that this isn't true. Of course it isn't. None of us have any strong opinions about this, and we will happily change our position if we are forced to, content in knowing that it drained energy from attention to the crucial issues.

Your plan to "turn-around" low performing schools is working well. The protesters, of course, are aghast at the use of such a brutal method, and point out its negative effect on neighborhoods, as well as the fact that we will always have the lowest 5% or 10%. Good business for companies specializing in turnarounds, but again, we have no stake in this, and it is on our list of positions we might give up or soften with time. But it continues to function as a diversion. If we decide to modify our policy, I suggest introducing a more complex set of criteria for categorizing a school as low-performing, so complex that it will keep protesters busy trying to figure it out, and even improve it.

Current efforts: Evaluating teachers based on increases in standardized test scores

The public has, so far, conveniently ignored the evidence that shows that evaluating teachers on increases in test scores is not reliable or valid. This is partly because the reports have been presented in the form of long, tedious technical papers that nobody has time to read, and the support has coming from prestigious newspapers, such as the Los Angeles Times. Naïve politicians like the common-sense sound of value-added evaluations, and believe whatever the newspapers say. (The newspapers have maintained the illusion of fairness by including occasional criticisms of value-added evaluations in their op-ed and letter to the editor sections. Fortunately for us, these pieces are usually written by academics with no idea of how to communicate with the public. And don't worry about Valerie. Who besides teachers reads a Washington Post blog on education?)

Our plan so far has been to denigrate all alternative forms of teacher evaluation. We have announced that Master's Degree's in education are worthless, and there has been little objection, thanks to our long and successful campaign of denigrating Schools of Education (Fortunately for us, The Schools of Education have not fought back.)

We have also proposed, without significant opposition, that years of experience should not count in favor of teachers. Crucial in convincing the public of this is our successful publicity for Teach for America. We have successfully convinced the public of the fiction that a young middle-class college graduate with no experience and little teacher education background, along with no real commitment to the teaching profession, is a better teacher than an experienced and dedicated professional.

Eliminating these other means of evaluating teachers puts more focus on value-added test scores. We are supplementing this with video-taping teachers to see how well their teaching confirms to a previously established model. This is an expensive and time-consuming procedure that is sure to (a) keep teachers and administrators extremely busy, giving them, again, less time to do much of anything else, especially closely examining the issues and the actual research. This is as usual very important, as there is no actual research supporting this method of evaluation (b) profits for companies who do the taping and computer support (c) lots of work for scholars in creating these evaluation systems, providing enough money to make the work attractive, and again diverting their attention from the value or lack of value of the procedure.

So here's what's next.

I propose we establish an elaborate system of categorizing teachers, actually ranking them, and giving them concrete symbols of their rank, as is done in the military. The ranks could be something like this:

1. Lowest level: novice (salary would be just above minimum wage, with reduced benefits)

2. Low intermediate

3. Intermediate

4. High intermediate

5. Senior Teacher (equal to Highly Qualified)

6. Master Teacher (salary would be very high, well over $100,000)

Different color jackets will correspond to each level, along with insignia. Soon, teachers will be scrambling for those insignias!

Of course promotion to a higher rank will be based on students' performance on value-added tests, as well as ratings of video-taped lessons. We will also ensure that demotion is possible.

The salary suggestions will result in a huge reduction in teacher salaries and benefits. Very few teachers will reach the Master level, and those who do will probably not stay there long, if the research done in this area showing the instability of value-added scores is correct, which I think it is. So teachers and the public will have the illusion that teachers will be highly paid, while actually this will rarely happen.

This system, especially with the use of the jackets, will divert teachers' attention to their status, in order to avoid the daily humiliation of wearing a low status jacket, and to impress their peers and their students.

The value-added scores, in addition to being unstable, can be defined in such a way so that a significant percentage of teachers will always get low ratings, which will keep salaries low, and force many teachers out of the profession, making sure that many insightful and expert teachers will be forced to quit. These are, of course, the trouble-makers.

As before, the new system will result in a great deal of time devoted to establishing complex guidelines for promotion and demotion, and we will have no trouble getting academics to work on this. It also means special events to celebrate promotions and of course the usual long and dull papers as to how unfair it all is that nobody will read.

Teacher ranking is clearly our next step.

I will announce this in a few weeks, and as usual I expect you to announce it again, as if it is your idea, three days later. I am optimistic: The public has no idea of what the real goals are of our anti-teacher campaign, and other than the feeble protests of a few, they have believed everything so far, even the fairy tale that our schools are broken and it's all because of teachers. The constant repeating of the phrase "our schools are broken" has been much more convincing than the elaborate dry analyses that put the blame on poverty.

Arne, the DOE's plan of praising teachers and destroying the profession at the same time is working well. I suggest you frame the teacher ranking plan as a way of properly identifying and rewarding excellence.

PS: Would you please return my Game-Boy? The one I loaned you has the Pokemon Pinball cartridge. I was up to level four.

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