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

Saturday, January 07, 2012

High Test Scores Make Happy People

Much ado is being made about an economics-in-education study hailed as “new” by the New York Times, even though the Times reporter indicates that findings were presented at “more than a dozen seminars” during the past year.  No specifics on that, and none are cited on the very current CV by lead author of the study and newest and youngest Harvard rock star economist, Raj Chetty. 

And though the paper has not been published or even submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, it is being hailed by the corporate media as ground breaking.  Last evening, in fact, the non-profit corporate media outlet, PBS, had a one-sided presentation by Raj Chetty, whose hapless scheduled adversary, Randi Weingarten, was, fortunately for her, stuck in Manhattan traffic.  Why would PBS get the head of the AFT to offer a critique of an academic paper that spouts the virtues of high value-added test scores as the key to happiness?   Why didn’t they get Jesse Rothstein or Gary Miron or another one of countless respected skeptical researchers of the testing gospel according to Hanushek and Sanders?  The choice says everything we need to know on this topic about the Gates-funded News Hour.

In the Times story, Jesse Rothstein is given one sentence just two sentences before the end of the story, which has been controlled by Erik Hanushek even to the last words.  Besides the minor quote from Rothstein, the reporter manages to slime his research as being tainted by union support:
“We are performing these studies in settings where nobody cares about their ranking — it does not change their pay or job security,” said Jesse Rothstein, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, whose work criticizing other value-added assessments unions frequently cite. “But if you start to change that, there is going to be a range of responses.”
Here’s the clip from the Times story that carries the central message and the clear intended takeaway:
After identifying excellent, average and poor teachers, the economists then set out to look at their students over the long term, analyzing information on earnings, college matriculation rates, the age they had children, and where they ended up living. 

The results were striking. Looking only at test scores, previous studies had shown, the effect of a good teacher mostly fades after three or four years. But the broader view showed that the students still benefit for years to come.

Students with top teachers are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers, more likely to enroll in college, and more likely to earn more money as adults, the study found. 

The authors argue that school districts should use value-added measures in evaluations, and to remove the lowest performers, despite the disruption and uncertainty involved. 

“The message is to fire people sooner rather than later,” Professor Friedman said. 

Professor Chetty acknowledged, “Of course there are going to be mistakes — teachers who get fired who do not deserve to get fired.” But he said that using value-added scores would lead to fewer mistakes, not more. 

Now as we know from the Alice-in-Wonderland world of value-added testing logic, good teachers are defined by high test scores, and high test scores define good teachers. ‘Nough said about that.  Everyone wants a good teacher, but middle class children, who do better even when first enter school than poor children, most often get the good teachers, who produce more high test scores with the children most likely to produce them.  

As a result, then, of taking the Big Test at the end of school (SAT or ACT), which like the ones during the earlier years of school allow that high family incomes will result almost always in higher scores (click chart to enlarge), these middle class children do well on their SATs and move on to brick and mortar colleges and careers and good health, wealth, and a well deserved-happiness that began, if we are to believe Prof. Chetty, with high test scores.  The other children, the poor, brown, black, disabled, and immigrant ones, who don't get the good teachers, since most good teachers are already taken, get the miseducation that these marginalized individuals and groups have always gotten, except now these marginalized children who manage to graduate, despite low test scores, get to virtually go to college, i.e, not quite.  

Because, you see, they have low test scores that can’t earn them a seat in a brick and mortar school because, remember, 1) they are poor, and thus, more likely to have low test scores, and 2) the middle class kids already have most of the "good" teachers.  Remember the good teachers--the ones who produce the higher test scores?  The ones everyone wants? 

These children, then, with their low SATS and ACTs, are most often enrolled in for-profit colleges nowadays, since community colleges that once accepted them are not receiving nearly enough public funds (the job creators can’t give any more in taxes) to meet the demands of all the poor kids who are desperately trying to attend.  The for-profit open admissions policy of the Phoenixes and Kaplans assures that they take anyone with a Pell Grant check, or anyone who might be able to get one.  Getting little of value at FPVC (for profit virtual college), which has proven too profitable to allow failure,  these students who are stressed by years of living poor drop out and end up (if they are lucky) in what we have made sure are dead end jobs with low wages and no protections.

Now the value-added logicians like Eric Hanushek and Bill Sanders propose a solution that takes us all the way back to the elementary school classroom: get rid of the teachers who produce low test scores (and any subsequent unhappiness), most of whom are teaching the poor, and hire only teachers who are achieving average or above average test scores.  So that when all teachers, then, are average or above average, then none will be below average.

Got that?  Good.  See you at the bottom of the rabbit hole.

Now we know that making all teachers average or above average will be hard, not because there are so many poor children with low test scores (continue to chant “Zip Code Is Not Destiny,” and “No Excuses”), but because we know that most teachers, particularly the ones who teach poor children, are essentially lazy and should be fired. Plus, and we have to admit this for the good of the children, poor children lack the “character traits” and “behavioral habits” that lead to success.  What’s needed, obviously, if we are going to make sure that “zip code is not destiny” and that there are “no excuses,” are schools without the legal, economic, curricular, personnel, governance, time, and ethical constraints that keep public schools and public school teachers in a straightjacket of bureaucratic control and moral constraint.  We need corporate schools and businessmen to run them.

Those old character traits (responsibility, caring, perseverance, honesty, self-discipline, citizenship, courage, fairness, respect, integrity, and patriotism) are totally Old School and need a corporate makeover, and Martin Seligman disciple, Angela Duckworth, and KIPP, Inc. have come up with a bold and zesty new list that does NOT include old-school qualities like fairness, caring, honesty, and integrity. 

The new list for a new corporate dawning: zest, grit, self-control, social intelligence, gratitude, optimism, and curiosity.  Did I mention grit?  Very important, grit.  For if nothing is going to done (remember the job cremators creators can’t be taxed any more) about the crumbling communities of the poor, or even about the tooth aches and bad vision and malnutrition and homelessness of these deficient children, then you are going need some real grit and gratitude, boys and girls, if you are going to Yale and Brown, like your temporary Teach for America teachers, who are eager to put in the 80-90 hours a week to make up for your deficient culture and your lazy former teachers.  Plus all of these white lady Ivy League teachers who are teaching for America are average or above.  Bingo!

Welcome to Lake Woebegone, Incorporated.

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