"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Response to the State of the State of Education in Indiana Part 2

Read Part 1 HERE

Last Tuesday, January 11, 2011, Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana, gave his State of the State address to the dominantly Republican Indiana state legislature. You can read the entire address here.

Much of the Governor’s speech dealt with Education. He made some points that I was expecting...he mentioned charter schools, collective bargaining, and evaluating teachers using test scores -- among other things.

Continuing to look at his points one at a time...

FOUR: TEACHER QUALITY
We know what works. It starts with teacher quality. Teacher quality has been found to be twenty times more important than any other factor, including poverty, in determining which kids succeed. Class size, by comparison, is virtually meaningless. Put a great teacher in front of a large class, and you can expect good results. Put a poor teacher in front of a small class, do not expect the kids to learn. In those Asian countries I mentioned, classrooms of thirty-five students are common, and they‘re beating our socks off.

We won’t have done our duty here until every single Indiana youngster has a good teacher every single year. Today, 99 percent of Indiana teachers are rated “effective.” If that were true, 99 percent, not one-third, of our students would be passing those national tests.
First, "they're" not "beating our socks off." Our students who don't live in poverty score highest in the world on standardized tests.

Still, I agree with part of this comment. I know that teacher evaluation can be improved. No one wants poor teachers in the classroom. Schools have to come up with ways to evaluate teachers. Administrators have to use the evaluation tools to help teachers improve and document their attempts. If teachers don't improve then they should find other work.

However, the number of so-called "failing schools" identified using test scores can't be explained simply by teacher quality. As we approach 2014 and the NCLB deadline requiring all schools in the country to be "successful" the number of schools on the "failing" list skyrockets. Unless someone would want to argue that a huge percentage of the teachers in the country are ineffective then there must be some other factor involved besides teacher quality.

Just how important is teacher quality in the grand scheme of things? Diane Ravitch, in a review of Waiting for Superman wrote:
...teacher quality accounts for about 7.5–10 percent of student test score gains. Several other high-quality analyses echo this finding, and while estimates vary a bit, there is a relative consensus: teachers statistically account for around 10–20 percent of achievement outcomes. Teachers are the most important factor within schools.

But the same body of research shows that nonschool factors matter even more than teachers. According to University of Washington economist Dan Goldhaber, about 60 percent of achievement is explained by nonschool factors, such as family income. So while teachers are the most important factor within schools, their effects pale in comparison with those of students’ backgrounds, families, and other factors beyond the control of schools and teachers. Teachers can have a profound effect on students, but it would be foolish to believe that teachers alone can undo the damage caused by poverty and its associated burdens.
Blaming teachers is easy. The level of poverty in the United States is shameful...and politicians don't want to acknowledge responsibility for that. Instead of getting parents, teachers, communities and civic leaders together to attack the issue of poverty, it's much easier to say, "fire bad teachers."

FIVE: UNIONS, CONTRACTS, and TENURE
Today’s teachers make more money not because their students learned more but just by living longer and putting another certificate on the wall. Their jobs are protected not by any record of great teaching but simply by seniority. We have seen “teachers of the year” laid off, just because they weren’t old enough. This must change. We have waited long enough.
First, schools in states with weak unions have the same problems that schools with stronger union contracts have.

Second, tenure is simply due process. If a teacher is not performing it's the administration's responsibility to show proof through documentation. The days of firing teachers just because the superintendent's spouse doesn't like them...or just because they are female...or black...or in a wheelchair...are over. Due process protects the rights of teachers. If a teacher is not doing the job, help them improve. If that doesn't work, and the administration can prove a teacher's incompetence, then tenure doesn't matter.

Third, does seniority hurt students? Stephen Krashen wrote:
In an interview (The New Advocate, "Teacher seniority under fire "September 12, 2010), researcher Michael Hansen said that improvement between year 3 and 25 was four percent, which he regarded as "trivial." But if valid, it means that more experienced teachers are slightly more effective. The only reason to ignore seniority as a criterion for retention in hard times is financial.
Hansen also pointed out that "This trend is actually common to most professional fields." The obvious implication is that if seniority is to be abandoned in retaining teachers, it should be out the window everywhere, based on quantitative evaluations similar to value-added, including writing newspaper articles.
SIX: CURRICULUM
But, in this new world of accountability, it is only fair to give our school leadership full flexibility to deliver the results we now expect. Already, I have ordered our Board of Education to peel away unnecessary requirements that consume time and money without really contributing to learning. We are asking this Assembly to repeal other mandates that, whatever their good intentions, ought to be left to local control. I am a supporter of organ donation, and cancer awareness, and preventing mosquito-borne disease, but if a local superintendent or school board thinks time spent on these mandated courses interferes with the teaching of math, or English, or science, it should be their right to eliminate them from a crowded school day.
Our students have already gotten educationally shortchanged over the last 10 years focusing on "the tests." We need Social Studies, Science, Civics, Foreign Languages, Art, Music, Physical Education. There's more to life than standardized tests. Alfie Kohn...
From atop Mount Olympus, where no children live, it may seem reasonable to demand "tougher standards" and to recite slogans such as "accountability." But in real schools, things look quite different. We need to think carefully about the tradeoffs the current school-reform movement entails.

Indeed, the evidence suggests that higher scores in a given school or community may actually be cause for concern. Reports of rising test performance should lead us to ask, "What was taken away from my children's education in order to make them better at taking standardized tests?"
SEVEN: QUICK FIXES (i.e.CHARTER SCHOOLS)
Indiana has lagged sadly behind other states in providing the option of charter schools. We must have more of them, and they must no longer be unjustly penalized. They should receive their funding exactly when other public schools do. If they need space, and the local district owns vacant buildings it has no prospect of using, they should turn them over.
Charter schools are NOT better than traditional public schools. On an individual basis there are specific charter schools which help students grow more than specific public schools, but the opposite is also true. In the article referenced above, Diane Ravitch wrote:
the CREDO study, it evaluated student progress on math tests in half the nation’s five thousand charter schools and concluded that 17 percent were superior to a matched traditional public school; 37 percent were worse than the public school; and the remaining 46 percent had academic gains no different from that of a similar public school.
The Governor is simply parroting the discredited talking points coming from the US Department of Education, the White House, and the Congress. Taking money from already shortchanged public schools and giving it to private companies who, as a whole, do no better is irresponsible for someone who claims to be a fiscal conservative.

Diane Ravitch wrote this morning about giving economists too much power over public education. The same is true of politicians, political appointees (I'm looking at you, Arne Duncan), and billionaires (and you, Bill Gates) who have no experience or background in education.
If we step back a bit...don't you think there is a certain kind of madness in thinking that economists who never set foot in a classroom can create a statistical measure to tell us how best to educate children? It seems some will never be satisfied until they have a technical process to override the judgments of those who work in schools and are in daily contact with teachers and children. I don't know of any other nation in the world that is so devoted to this effort to turn education into a statistical problem that can be solved by a computer. It is not likely to end well.
As she says, it's madness.

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