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

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Arne Duncan's Next $5 Billion Corporate Bonanza Based on Same Mythology

For years the ostensible guru of value-added testing, Bill Sanders, told anyone who would listen that teachers are the most important factor influencing student achievement.  When Richard Rothstein, Gene Glass, and others pointed out the obvious falsity of this lie, the language shifted among corporate ed reformers to argue that teachers are the most important school-based factor in raising student achievement.

Well, that is sort of accurate in a misleading sort of way, with some caveats and contextual factors to consider, which has led even the conservative Education Writers Association to conclude that
Research has shown that the variation in student achievement is predominantly a product of individual and family background characteristics. Of the school factors that have been isolated for study, teachers are probably the most important determinants of how students will perform on standardized tests.
 It's too bad that the corporate media does not follow its own best advice but, rather, continues the misleading myth that teachers are the most important school-based influence on achievement.  How much, then, do teachers contribute to achievement variations?   

From Goldhaber et al, 2010

The above picture shows that what students bring to the table at the beginning of the year (their characteristics and prior level of achievement in a subject) is vitally important, but school quality matters a great deal too, explaining about 20 percent of the variation (the combination of school-level and teacher-level effects). Of this, over 6 percent is attributed to within school differences in teacher effectiveness. This is a very conservative estimate of the importance of differences between teachers because some of the between-school variation is also due to differences in teacher effectiveness; unfortunately we cannot separate differences between schools in the effectiveness of the teacher workforce from other school-level factors (e.g. principals) that might also influence achievement.9
9 These estimates of the relative importance of various factors in explaining the variation in student achievement are extremely similar to estimates from elsewhere. Goldhaber et al. (1999), for instance, peg this figure at 8.5 percent; and Nye et al. report that differences between teachers explain between 10.4 and 11.3 percent of the variation in mathematics scores for students in kindergarten through third grade.
The Nye et al (2004) can be found here, and to cut to the chase, see pages 239-240:
Some characteristics of the studies and the AR2 values for 17 of the analyses range from 0.07 to 0.21, suggesting that from 7% to 21% of the variance in achievement gains is associated with variation in teacher effectiveness. The 18th analysis (Rivkin, et al., 2001) generated a somewhat smaller estimate, but used a slightly different technique than the other studies and the figure given was designed to yield a lower bound on the magnitude of teacher effects (p. 240). 

 So why am I bringing this up again at this time?  Well, because the myth that will not die has taken center stage in the most recent Obama education budget, which promises another $5,000,000,000 for another round of teacher bashing, tenure toppling, pay for test scores, etc.  As is common when the Ministry of Learning issues an edict, it has an Orwellian name that signifies its obverse.  This one is called RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence, and Collaborative Teaching).  And how does the first sentence read from the web document: "Teachers and Leaders: America's Engineers of Learning and Growth"?
Research has consistently shown that the most important school-based factor impacting a child’s academic success is the quality of the classroom teacher, followed closely by the strength of the school leader.  

No citations, no reference, just bullshit.

And here are the RESPECT priorities, with my translation in brackets:

Details of the program will be developed through budget negotiations with Congress and the competition process itself, but the proposal considers a broad range of reforms:
  • Reforming teacher colleges and making them more selective [make teacher ed test score based and use TFA selection criteria]
  • Creating new career ladders for teachers [allow total compliance experts in the classroom to move into school leader jobs].
  • Linking earnings more closely to performance rather than simply longevity or credentials [more pay based on test scores].
  • Compensating teachers for working in challenging learning environments [maintaining segregated impoverished school populations and paying teachers extra to support this apartheid scheme].
  • Making teacher salaries more competitive with other professions [bullshit].
  • Improving professional development and providing time for collaboration [more Common Core in-service and collegial surveillance for compliance].
  • Providing teachers with greater autonomy in exchange for greater accountability [higher test scores bring free rein to get more].
  • Building evaluation systems based on multiple measures, not just test scores [more observations based on checklists for pedagogical strategies aimed at higher test score production].
  • Reforming tenure to raise the bar, protect good teachers, and promote accountability [holding job security hostage until test score ransom is paid. Whack teachers who can't pay up.]


  1. Just to have a teacher with confidence, actually will build confidence into the students. I know that from experience. It really is like self esteem is contagious and it can carry into the students.

  2. Also, too
    "Improving professional development and providing time for collaboration" [weekly meetings training teachers in best practices according to the Milken brothers ethic]
    "Making teacher salaries more competitive with other professions" [merit pay and bullshit].