Virginia SGP’s Side of the Story

In one of my most recent posts I wrote about how Virginia SGP, aka parent Brian Davison, won in court against the state of Virginia, requiring them to release teachers’ Student Growth Percentile (SGP) scores. Virginia SGP is a very vocal promoter of the use of SGPs to evaluate teachers’ value-added (although many do not consider the SGP model to be a value-added model (VAM); see general differences between VAMs and SGPs here). Regardless, he sued the state of Virginia to release teachers’ SGP scores so he could make them available to all via the Internet. He did this, more specifically, so parents and perhaps others throughout the state would be able to access and then potentially use the scores to make choices about who should and should not teach their kids. See other posts about this story here and here.

Those of us who are familiar with Virginia SGP and the research literature writ large know that, unfortunately, there’s much that Virginia SGP does not understand about the now loads of research surrounding VAMs as defined more broadly (see multiple research article links here). Likewise, Virginia SGP, as evidenced below, rides most of his research-based arguments on select sections of a small handful of research studies (e.g., those written by economists Raj Chetty and colleagues, and Thomas Kane as part of Kane’s Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies) that do not represent the general research on the topic. He simultaneously ignores/rejects the research studies that empirically challenge his research-based claims (e.g., that there is no bias in VAM-based estimates, and that because Chetty, Friedman, and Rockoff “proved this,” it must be true, despite the research studies that have presented evidence otherwise (see for example here, here, and here).

Nonetheless, given that him winning this case in Virginia is still noteworthy, and followers of this blog should be aware of this particular case, I invited Virginia SGP to write a guest post so that he could tell his side of the story. As we have exchanged emails in the past, which I must add have become less abrasive/inflamed as time has passed, I recommend that readers read and also critically consume what is written below. Let’s hope that we might have some healthy and honest dialogue on this particular topic in the end.

From Virginia SGP:

I’d like to thank Dr. Amrein-Beardsley for giving me this forum.

My school district recently announced its teacher of the year. John Tuck teaches in a school with 70%+ FRL students compared to a district average of ~15% (don’t ask me why we can’t even those #’s out). He graduated from an ordinary school with a degree in liberal arts. He only has a Bachelors and is not a National Board Certified Teacher (NBCT). He is in his ninth year of teaching specializing in math and science for 5th graders. Despite the ordinary background, Tuck gets amazing student growth. He mentors, serves as principal in the summer, and leads the school’s leadership committees. In Dallas, TX, he could have risen to the top of the salary scale already, but in Loudoun County, VA, he only makes $55K compared to a top salary of $100K for Step 30 teachers. Tuck is not rewarded for his talent or efforts largely because Loudoun eschews all VAMs and merit-based promotion.

This is largely why I enlisted the assistance of Arizona State law school graduate Lin Edrington in seeking the Virginia Department of Education’s (VDOE) VAM (SGP) data via a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit (see pertinent files here).

VAMs are not perfect. There are concerns about validity when switching from paper to computer tests. There are serious concerns about reliability when VAMs are computed with small sample sizes or are based on classes not taught by the rated teacher (as appeared to occur in New Mexico, Florida, and possibly New York). Improper uses of VAMs give reformers a bad name. This was not the case in Virginia. SGPs were only to be used when appropriate with 2+ years of data and 40+ scores recommended.

I am a big proponent of VAMs based on my reviews of the research. We have the Chetty/Friedman/Rockoff (CFR) studies, of course, including their recent paper showing virtually no bias (Table 6). The following briefing presented by Professor Friedman at our trial gives a good layman’s overview of their high level findings. When teachers are transferred to a completely new school but their VAMs remain consistent, that is very convincing to me. I understand some point to the cautionary statement of the ASA suggesting districts apply VAMs carefully and explicitly state their limitations. But the ASA definitely recommends VAMs for analyzing larger samples including schools or district policies, and CFR believe their statement failed to consider updated research.

To me, the MET studies provided some of the most convincing evidence. Not only are high VAMs on state standardized tests correlated to higher achievement on more open-ended short-answer and essay-based tests of critical thinking, but students of high-VAM teachers are more likely to enjoy class (Table 14). This points to VAMs measuring inspiration, classroom discipline, the ability to communicate concepts, subject matter knowledge and much more. If a teacher engages a disinterested student, their low scores will certainly rise along with their VAMs. CFR and others have shown this higher achievement carries over into future grades and success later in life. VAMs don’t just measure the ability to identify test distractors, but the ability of teachers to inspire.

So why exactly did the Richmond City Circuit Court force the release of Virginia’s SGPs? VDOE applied for and received a No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver like many other states. But in court testimony provided in December of 2014, VDOE acknowledged that districts were not complying with the waiver by not providing the SGP data to teachers or using SGPs in teacher evaluations despite “assurances” to the US Department of Education (USDOE). When we initially received a favorable verdict in January of 2015, instead of trying to comply with NCLB waiver requirements, my district of Loudoun County Publis Schools (LCPS) laughed. LCPS refused to implement SGPs or even discuss them.

There was no dispute that the largest Virginia districts had committed fraud when I discussed these facts with the US Attorney’s office and lawyers from the USDOE in January of 2016, but the USDOE refused to support a False Claim Act suit. And while nearly every district stridently refused to use VAMs [i.e., SGPs], the Virginia Secretary of Education was falsely claiming in high profile op-eds that Virginia was using “progress and growth” in the evaluation of schools. Yet, VDOE never used the very measure (SGPs) that the ESEA [i.e., NCLB] waivers required to measure student growth. The irony is that if these districts had used SGPs for just 1% of their teachers’ evaluations after the December of 2014 hearing, their teachers’ SGPs would be confidential today. I could only find one county that utilized SGPs, and their teachers’ SGPs are exempt. Sometimes fraud doesn’t pay.

My overall goals are threefold:

  1. Hire more Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) majors to get kids excited about STEM careers and effectively teach STEM concepts
  2. Use growth data to evaluate policies, administrators, and teachers. Share the insights from the best teachers and provide professional development to ineffective ones
  3. Publish private sector equivalent pay so young people know how much teachers really earn (pensions often add 15-18% to their salaries). We can then recruit more STEM teachers and better overall teaching candidates

What has this lawsuit and activism cost me? A lot. I ate $5K of the cost of the VDOE SGP suit even after the award[ing] of fees. One local school board member has banned me from commenting on his “public figure” Facebook page (which I see as a free speech violation), both because I questioned his denial of SGPs and some other conflicts of interests I saw, although indirectly related to this particular case. The judge in the case even sanctioned me $7K just for daring to hold him accountable. And after criticizing LCPS for violating Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by coercing kids who fail Virginia’s Standards of Learning tests (SOLs) to retake them, I was banned from my kids’ school for being a “safety threat.”

Note that I am a former Naval submarine officer and have held Department of Defense (DOD) clearances for 20+ years. I attended a meeting this past Thursday with LCPS officials in which they [since] acknowledged I was no safety threat. I served in the military, and along with many I have fought for the right to free speech.

Accordingly, I am no shrinking violet. Despite having LCPS attorneys sanction perjury, the Republican Commonwealth Attorney refused to prosecute and then illegally censored me in public forums. So the CA will soon have to sign a consent order acknowledging violating my constitutional rights (he effectively admitted as much already). And a federal civil rights complaint against the schools for their retaliatory ban is being drafted as we speak. All of this resulted from my efforts to have public data released and hold LCPS officials accountable to state and federal laws. I have promised that the majority of any potential financial award will be used to fund other whistle blower cases, [against] both teachers and reformers. I have a clean background and administrators still targeted me. Imagine what they would do to someone who isn’t willing to bear these costs!

In the end, I encourage everyone to speak out based on your beliefs. Support your case with facts not anecdotes or hastily conceived opinions. And there are certainly efforts we can all support like those of Dr. Darling-Hammond. We can hold an honest debate, but please remember that schools don’t exist to employ teachers/principals. Schools exist to effectively educate students.

What ESSA Means for Teacher Evaluation and VAMs

Within a prior post, I wrote in some detail about what the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) means for the U.S., as well as states’ teacher evaluation systems as per the federally mandated adoption and use of growth and value-added models (VAMs) across the U.S., after President Obama signed it into law in December.

Diane Ravitch recently covered, in her own words, what ESSA means for teacher evaluations systems as well, in what she called Part II of a nine Part series on all key sections of ESSA (see Parts I-IX here). I thought Part II was important to share with you all, especially given this particular post captures that in which followers of this blog are most interested, although I do recommend that you all also see what the ESSA means for other areas of educational progress and reform in terms of the Common Core, teacher education, charter schools, etc. in her Parts I-IX.

Here is what she captured in her Part II post, however, copied and pasted here from her original post:

The stakes attached to testing: will teachers be evaluated by test scores, as Duncan demanded and as the American Statistical Association rejected? Will teachers be fired because of ratings based on test scores?

Short Answer:

The federal mandate on teacher evaluation linked to test scores, as created in the waivers, is eliminated in ESSA.

States are allowed to use federal funds to continue these programs, if they choose, or completely change their strategy, but they will no longer be required to include these policies as a condition of receiving federal funds. In fact, the Secretary is explicitly prohibited from mandating any aspect of a teacher evaluation system, or mandating a state conduct the evaluation altogether, in section 1111(e)(1)(B)(iii)(IX) and (X), section 2101(e), and section 8401(d)(3) of the new law.

Long Answer:

Chairman Alexander has been a long advocate of the concept, as he calls it, of “paying teachers more for teaching well.” As governor of Tennessee he created the first teacher evaluation system in the nation, and believes to this day that the “Holy Grail” of education reform is finding fair ways to pay teachers more for teaching well.

But he opposed the idea of creating or continuing a federal mandate and requiring states to follow a Washington-based model of how to establish these types of systems.

Teacher evaluation is complicated work and the last thing local school districts and states need is to send their evaluation system to Washington, D.C., to see if a bureaucrat in Washington thinks they got it right.

ESSA ends the waiver requirements on August 2016 so states or districts that choose to end their teacher evaluation system may. Otherwise, states can make changes to their teacher evaluation systems, or start over and start a new system. The decision is left to states and school districts to work out.

The law does continue a separate, competitive funding program, the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund, to allow states, school districts, or non-profits or for-profits in partnership with a state or school district to apply for competitive grants to implement teacher evaluation systems to see if the country can learn more about effective and fair ways of linking student performance to teacher performance.

Something to Be Thankful For, in New York

New York is one of a handful of states often of (dis)honrable mention on this blog (see for example here, here, and here), given its state Schools Chancellor Merryl Tisch, with the support and prodding of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, have continuously pushed to have teacher-level growth scores count for up to 50% of teachers’ total evaluation scores.

But now, it looks like there is something for which we all, and especially those in New York, might be thankful.

As per an article published yesterday in The New York Times, Governor “Cuomo, in Shift, Is Said to Back Reducing Test Scores’ Role in Teacher Reviews.” Thankful we should be for teachers who expressed their frustrations with the state’s policy movements, who were apparently heard. And thankful we should be for the parents who opted out last year in protest throughout New York, as it looks like their collective efforts also worked to reverse this state trend. “More than 200,000 of the nearly 1.2 million students [16.7%] expected to take the annual reading and math tests [in New York] did not sit for them in 2015.”

“Now, facing a parents’ revolt against testing, the state is poised to change course and reduce the role of test scores in evaluations. And according to two people involved in making state education policy, [Governor] Cuomo has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero. That would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.”

It looks like a task force is to make recommendations to Governor Cuomo before his 2016 State of the State speech in January, with recommendations potentially including the “decoupling test scores from [teacher] evaluations or putting in place some kind of moratorium on teacher evaluations.”

As per Diane Ravitch’s post on this breaking story, “Cuomo may not only reduce the role of testing in teacher evaluation, but eliminate it altogether.” However, we might also be cautiously thankful, and critically aware, as “[t]his may be a hoax, a temporary moratorium intended to deflate the Opt Out Movement and cause it to disappear. Do not rest until the law is changed to delink testing and teacher-principal evaluations.” Rather, “Let’s remain watchful and wait to see what happens. In the meanwhile, this is [certainly] reason for joy on the day [of] Thanksgiving.”

“Students Matter” Sues 13 California Districts for Not Using Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers

From Diane Ravitch’s Blog, here:

“Students Matter,” the Silicon Valley-funded group that launched the Vergara lawsuit to block teacher tenure in California, is now suing 13 school districts for their failure to use test scores in evaluating teachers.

The goal is to compel the entire state to use value-added-modeling (VAM), despite the fact that experience and research have demonstrated its invalidity and lack of reliability.

The Southern California school systems named in the latest filing are El Monte City, Inglewood Unified, Chaffey Joint Union, Chino Valley Unified, Ontario-Montclair, Saddleback Valley Unified, Upland Unified and Victor Elementary District. The others are: Fairfield-Suisun Unified, Fremont Union, Pittsburg Unified; San Ramon Valley Unified and Antioch Unified.

“School districts are not going to get away with bargaining away their ability to use test scores to evaluate teachers,” said attorney Joshua S. Lipshutz, who is working on behalf of Students Matter. “That’s a direct violation of state law.”

The plaintiffs are six California residents, including some parents and teachers, three of whom are participating anonymously.

In all, the districts serve about 250,000 students, although the group’s goal is to compel change across California.

“The impact is intended to be statewide, to show that no school district is above the law,” Lipshutz said.

The plaintiffs are not asking the courts to determine how much weight test scores should be given in a performance review, Lipshutz said. He cited research, however, suggesting that test scores should account for 30% to 40% of an evaluation.

The current case, Doe vs. Antioch, builds on earlier litigation involving the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 2012, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled that the school system had to include student test scores in teacher evaluations. But the judge also allowed wide latitude for negotiation between the union and district.

The court decision was based on the 1971 Stull Act, which set out rules for teacher evaluations. Many districts had failed for decades to comply with it, according to some experts.

Will the Silicon Valley billionaires help to find new teachers when the state faces massive teacher shortages based on the litigation they continue to file?

VAM Scholars and An (Unfortunate) List of VAMboozlers

Some time ago I posted a list of those I consider the (now) top 35 VAM Scholars whose research folks out there should be following, especially if they need good (mainly) peer-reviewed research to help them and others (e.g., local, regional, and state policymakers) become more informed about VAMs and their related policies. If you missed this post, do check out these VAM Scholars here.

Soon after, a colleague suggested that I should follow this list up with a list of what I termed in a prior post as appropriate to this blog as the VAMboozlers.

VAMboozlers are VAM Scholars whose research I would advise consumers to consume carefully. These researchers might be (in my opinion) prematurely optimistic about the potentials of VAMs contrary to what aproximately 90% of the empirical research in this area would support; these scholars might use methods that over-simplistically approach very complex problems and accordingly make often sweeping, unwarranted, and perhaps invalid assertions regardless; these folks might have financial or other vested interests in the VAMs being adopted and implemented; or the like.

While I aim to keep this section of the blog as professional and fair, open, and aboveboard as possible, I simultaneously hope to make such information on this blog more actionable and accessible for blog followers and readers.

Accordingly, here is my (still working) list of VAMboozlers:

*If you have any recommendations for this list, please let me know

Breaking News: New York’s Sheri Lederman is to Have Her Day in Court

Remember Sheri Lederman of Long Island, the apparently, by all other accounts, terrific 4th grade and now 18 year veteran teacher who received an “ineffective” rating based on New York’s value-added model (VAM); that is, a score of 1 out of 20 after she scored a 14 out of 20 the year prior (see prior posts herehere and here)?  With her husband, Bruce Lederman – an attorney – she was suing the state of New York to challenge the state’s teacher evaluation system…

Well, the state of New York sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, but a few days ago the New York Supreme Court ruled that the lawsuit would move forward. This is great news for the Ledermans, and (hopefully, soon to be) great news for many others across the nation!

This comes from an email sent by Bruce Lederman yesterday (with his permission to share with you all):

I am very pleased to advise all of you, who have generously helped and volunteered your time and thoughts, that Judge Roger D. McDonough just issued the attached decision finding that Sheri does indeed have standing to challenge her growth score of 1 out of 20 points. The [New York] Education Department [NYED] has been ordered to answer the Petition claiming that the score is arbitrary and capricious within 30 days from notice of entry…

The Court is holding off a decision until after the [NYED] answers our request for discovery and depositions. We have requested underlying data, a clear statement of what Sheri needed to do to get a perfect score, and to take depositions of both State Ed and [the American Institutes for Research (AIR) – the VAM developer in NY].

I don’t know what the Ed Department will say but predict that they will predominantly argue that the growth score, while not perfect, is not sufficiently irrational to justify Court intervention. Obviously, [we] strongly disagree. I suspect that they will try to argue that there is some overriding legislative interest in promoting student “growth” which will somehow allow them to avoid the merits of Sheri’s otherwise very strong case.

Thanks to all who have helped and I look forward to getting a Judicial decision actually addressing the irrationality of Value Added Models.

As per a post yesterday on Diane Ravitch’s blog (also covering the same “Breaking News”) this means that “that the NY Education Department must now answer to a Judge and explain why a rating which is irrational by any reasonable standard should be permitted to remain. The NY Education Department argued that Sheri Lederman lacked standing to challenge an “ineffective” rating on her growth score since her overall rating was still effective and she was not fired. A judge disagreed and determined that an ineffective rating on a growth score is an injury which she is entitled to challenge in Court.”

Sheri, on behalf of many, will finally have her day in court.

Yong Zhao’s Stand-Up Speech

Yong Zhao — Professor in the Department of Educational Methodology, Policy, and Leadership at the University of Oregon — was a featured speaker at the recent annual conference of the Network for Public Education (NPE). He spoke about “America’s Suicidal Quest for Outcomes,” as in, test-based outcomes.

I strongly recommend you take almost an hour (i.e., 55 minutes) out of your busy days and sit back and watch what is the closest thing to a stand-up speech I’ve ever seen. Zhao offers a poignant but also very entertaining and funny take on America’s public schools, surrounded by America’s public school politics and situated in America’s pop culture. The full transcription of Zhao’s speech is also available here, as made available by Mercedes Schneider, for any and all who wish to read it: Yong_Zhao NPE Transcript

Zhao speaks of democracy, and embraces his freedom of speech in America (v. China) that permits him to speak out. He explains why he pulled his son out of public school, thanks to No Child Left Behind (NCLB), yet he criticizes G. W. Bush for causing his son to (since college graduation) live in his basement. Hence, Zhao’s “readiness” to leave the basement is much more important than any other performance “readiness” measure being written into the plethora of educational policies surrounding “readiness” (e.g., career and college readiness, pre-school readiness).

Zhao uses what happened to Easter Island’s Rapa Nui civilization that led to their extinction as an analogy for what may happen to us post Race to the Top, given both sets of people are/were driven by false hopes of the gods raining down on them prosperity, should they successfully compete for success and praise. Like the Rapa Nui built monumental statues in their race to “the top” (literally), the unintended consequences that came about as a result (e.g., the exploitation of their natural resources) destroyed their civilization. Zhao argues the same thing is happening in our country with test scores being the most sought after monuments, again, despite the consequences.

Zhao calls for mandatory lists of side effects that come along with standardized testing, similar to something I wrote years ago in an article titled “Buyer, Be Aware: The Value-Added Assessment Model is One Over-the-Counter Product that May Be Detrimental to Your Health.” In this article I pushed for a Federal Drug Administration (FDA) approach to educational research, that would serve as a model to protect the intellectual health of the U.S. A simple approach that legislators and education leaders would have to follow when they passed legislation or educational policies whose benefits and risks are known, or unknown.

Otherwise, he calls all educators (and educational policymakers) to continuously ask themselves one question when test scores rise: “What did you give up to achieve this rise in scores.” When you choose something, what do you lose?

Do give it a watch!

Diane Ravitch v. Merryl Tisch on MSNBC

Diane Ravitch – former US Assistant Secretary of Education and current Research Professor of Education at New York University – recently went head-to-head with Merryl Tisch – Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents – about testing, or rather the “Testing Revolt” surrounding the opt-out movement, specifically, on MSNBC’s  “All In” host Chris Hayes. Click here to view the best version of the live broadcase I could find (via YouTube). Here are some of the highlights:

Chris Hayes compares opting out of high-stakes tests to opting out of immunizations, after which Diane responds that making such a comparison is completely inappropriate because “one has a scientific basis [and] the other has none.”

Merryl claims that the tests are diagnostic tools that are used to inform instruction and curriculum development, to which Diane responds about the inordinate numbers of hours students spend testing and how whatever formative value might come from such tests is grossly delayed whereas teachers do not receive results until well after their students have left their classrooms, which greatly limits formative potential.

Merryl has no response to that, that Chris aptly points out, but she defers rather to a peripheral argument that the public who spends $54 billion on education throughout the state has a right to what she did not term tests’ summative (i.e., opposite of formative) functionality.

Diane responds after a bit of redirection and explains how we test more than any other industrialized nation in the world, including the top 10 performing nations as per international exams. Interesting here, albeit not stated explicitly, is that we have been testing in this manner for over 30 years yet we still cannot break the top 10. Isn’t that an indicator in an of itself as our number one educational reform model  — increasing standards and attaching new and improved tests to measure and hold teachers and students to meeting those standards, over and over and over again — isn’t working?

Merryl ends by (falsely) explaining to parents they are inappropriately opting out because they have been trapped in a dispute caused by Governor Cuomo linking tests to teacher evaluation to which teachers unions are opposed. Diane was not given a chance to respond.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…

No surprise, again, but Thomas Kane, an economics professor from Harvard University who also directed the $45 million worth of Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) studies for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is publicly writing in support of VAMs, again (redundancy intended). I just posted about one of his recent articles published on the website of the Brookings Institution titled “Do Value-Added Estimates Identify Causal Effects of Teachers and Schools?” after which I received another of his articles, this time published by the New York Daily News titled “Teachers Must Look in the Mirror.”

Embracing a fabled metaphor, while not to position teachers as the wicked queens or to position Kane as Snow White, let us ask ourselves the classic question:”Who is the fairest one of all?” as we critically review yet another fairytale authored by Harvard’s Kane. He has, after all, “carefully studied the best systems for rating teachers” (see other prior posts about Kane’s public perspectives on VAMs here and here).

In this piece, Kane continues to advance a series of phantasmal claims about the potentials of VAMs, this time in the state of New York where Governor Andrew Cuomo intends to take the state’s teacher evaluation system up to a system based 50% on teachers’ value-added, or 100% on value-added in cases where a teacher rated as “ineffective” in his/her value-added score can be rated as “ineffective” overall. Here,  value-added could be used to trump all else (see prior posts about this here and here).

According to Kane, Governor Cuomo “picked the right fight.” The state’s new system “will finally give schools the tools they need to manage and improve teaching.” Perhaps the magic mirror would agree with such a statement, but research would evidence it vain.

As I have noted prior, there is absolutely no evidence, thus far, indicating that such systems have any (in)formative use or value. These data are first and foremost designed for summative, or summary, purposes; they are not designed for formative use. Accordingly, the data that come from such systems — besides the data that come from the observational components still being built into these systems that have existed and been used for decades past — are not transparent, difficult to understand, and therefore challenging to use. Likewise, such data are not instructionally sensitive, and they are untimely in that test-based results typically come back to teachers well after their students have moved on to subsequent grade levels.

What about Kane’s claims against tenure: “The tenure process is the place to start. It’s the most important decision a principal makes. One poor decision can burden thousands of future students, parents, colleagues and supervisors.” This is quite an effect considering the typical teacher being held accountable using these new and improved teacher evaluation systems as based (in this case largely) on VAMs typically impacts only teachers at the elementary level who teach mathematics and reading/language arts. Even an elementary teacher with a career spanning 40 years with an average of 30 students per class would directly impact (or burden) 1,200 students, maximum. This is not to say this is inconsequential, but as consequential as Kane’s sensational numbers imply? What about the thousands of parents, colleagues, and supervisors also to be burdened by one poor decision? Fair and objective? This particular mirror thinks not.

Granted, I am not making any claims about tenure as I think all would agree that sometimes tenure can support, keeping with the metaphor, bad apples. Rather I take claim with the exaggerations, including also that “Traditionally, principals have used much too low a standard, promoting everyone but the very worst teachers.” We must all check our assumptions here about how we define “the very worst teachers” and how many of them really lurk in the shadows of America’s now not-so-enchanted forests. There is no evidence to support this claim, either, just conjecture.

As for the solution, “Under the new law, the length of time it will take to earn tenure will be lengthened from three to four years.” Yes, that arbitrary, one-year extension will certainly help… Likewise, tenure decisions will now be made better using classroom observations (the data that have, according to Kane in this piece, been used for years to make all of these aforementioned bad decisions) and our new fair and objective, test-based measures, which not accordingly to Kane, can only be used for about 30% of all teachers in America’s public schools. Nonetheless, “Student achievement gains [are to serve as] the bathroom scale, [and] classroom observations [are to serve] as the mirror.”

Kane continues, scripting, “Although the use of test scores has received all the attention, [one of] the most consequential change[s] in the law has been overlooked: One of a teacher’s observers must now be drawn from outside his or her school — someone whose only role is to comment on teaching.” Those from inside the school were only commenting on one’s beauty and fairness prior, I suppose, as “The fact that 96% of teachers were given the two highest ratings last year — being deemed either “effective” or “highly effective” — is a sure sign that principals have not been honest to date.”

All in all, perhaps somebody else should be taking a long hard “Look in the Mirror,” as this new law will likely do everything but “[open] the door to a renewed focus on instruction and excellence in teaching” despite the best efforts of “union leadership,” although I might add to Kane’s list many adorable little researchers who have also “carefully studied the best systems for rating teachers” and more or less agree on their intended and unintended results in…the end.

Tennessee’s Senator Lamar Alexander to “Fix” No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

In The Tennessean this week was an article about how Lamar Alexander – the new chairman of the US Senate Education Committee, the current US Senator from Tennessee, and the former US Secretary of Education under former President George Bush Senior – is planning on “fixing” No Child Left Behind (NCLB). See another Tennessean article about this last week as well, here. This is good news, also given this is coming from Tennessee – one of our states to watch given its history of  value-added reforms tied to NCLB tests.

NCLB, even though it has not been reauthorized since 2002 (despite a failed attempt in 2007) is still foundational to current test-based reforms, including those that tie federal funds to the linking of students’ (NCLB) test scores to students’ teachers to measure teacher-level value-added. To date, for example, 42 states have been granted NCLB waivers for not getting 100% of their students to 100% proficiency in mathematics and reading/language arts by 2014, as long as states adopted and implemented federal reforms based on common core tests and began tying test scores to teacher quality using growth/value-added measures. This was in exchange for the federal educational funds on which states also rely.

Well, Lamar apparently believes that this is precisely what needs fixing. “The law has become unworkable,” Alexander said. “States are struggling. As a result, we need to act.”

More specifically, Senator Alexander wants to:

  • take power away from the US Department of Education, which he often refers to as our country’s “national school board.”
  • prevent the US Department of Education from further pressuring schools to adopt certain tests and standards.
  • prevent current US Secretary of Education Duncan from continuing to hold “states over a barrel,” forcing them to do what he has wanted them to do to avoid being labeled failures.
  • “set realistic goals, keep the best portions of the law, and restore to states and communities the responsibility to decide whether schools and teachers are succeeding or failing.” Although, Alexander has still been somewhat neutral regarding the future role of tests.

“Are there too many? Are they redundant? Are they the right tests? I’m open on the question,” Alexander said.

As noted by the journalist of this article, however, this is the biggest concern with this (potentially) big win for education in that “There is broad agreement that students should be tested less, but what agency wants to relinquish the ability to hold teachers, administrators and school districts accountable for the money we [as a public] spend on education?” Current US Secretary of Education Duncan, for example, believes if we don’t continue down his envisioned path, “we [will] turn back the clock on educational progress, 15 years or more.” This from a guy who has built his political career on the fact that educators have made no educational progress; hence, this is the reason we need to hold teachers accountable for the lack of progress thereof.

We shall see how this one goes, I guess.

For an excellent “Dear Lamar” letter, from Lamar Alexander’s former Assistant Secretary of Education who served under Lamar when he was US Secretary of Education under former President Bush Senior, click here. It’s a wonderful letter written by Diane Ravitch; wonderful becuase it includes so many recommendations highlighting that which could be at this potential turning point in federal policy.

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