Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Management by Pinheads

Management by numbers proves to be management by pinheads. Nothing exposes so clearly the naïveté and lack of understanding of managers and boards as when they start believing that complex human organizations can be managed by numbers: quantitative goals and numerical quotas; and in the case of educating children, drop-out rates, attendance statistics, promotion percentages, or test scores.

Beverly Hall died yesterday (March 2, 2015) after having been diagnosed recently with stage 4 breast cancer. Beverly Hall had a distinguished career as an education administrator that led her to one of the most prestigious positions in the nation: Superintendent of the Atlanta, Georgia public schools. Her service there was recognized with several honors: National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 and, later, the Distinguished Contributions to Service award of the American Educational Research Association. Hall was celebrated far and wide as a new breed of administrator. In her own words, she was a “data driven” manager. Decisions often rested heavily on the test scores of the classes and schools of the people who worked under her. Atlanta schools were the jewel in the crown of Management by Numbers … until it all came crashing down.

Hall was ultimately indicted for overseeing the scheme that inflated test scores of thousands of students in an attempt to create the fiction that she had “turned around” a failing school system. The criminal case against Hall will obviously be dropped. To be sure, Hall was at least guilty of some pretty shady activities, and she put her subordinates in circumstances where equally shady dealings were required to maintain one’s employment (a la Michelle Rhee and the Washington D.C. school system). But equally guilty is an ethos permeating organizations of many different kinds that holds that the management of complex dealings with human beings can be reduced to simple arithmetic.

Take my local school district, for example: Scottsdale (AZ) Unified School District. Recent actions (February 10, 2015) by the school governing board have resulted in a system of quantitative goals and bonuses for the district superintendent. Among these goals are 1) maintaining a 90% graduation rate, 2) remaining in the top 10% of the state’s districts on whatever the state standardized test will be, 3) reducing the teacher turn-over rate by half a percentage point, and 4) ensuring that 85% of the district students meet the state benchmarks in reading and math. Exactly what the superintendent’s bonus will be if these goals are met has not been disclosed to the media.

Anyone who knows the first thing about how schools run will recognize immediately that numerical goals like the ones favored by the Scottsdale Unified school board can be “gamed.” Counsel a few students away from some of the more challenging courses, put out a few broad hints about grading scales in those tough science courses that are flunking too many kids, or give a little extra time on those state bench marking tests, and voila the goals are met and the bonus is in hand.

It’s not just in Atlanta where "gaming" management-by-numbers systems is common. It has happened over and over in education at all levels. In one infamous incident in the 1980s, school principals in Houston were caught erasing and correcting answer sheets in their office in order to receive hefty bonuses for achieving annual growth targets. But one might have expected the Scottsdale Unified governing board to know better. After all, Phoenix is where in 2014 the head of the Veterans Administration hospital was caught falsifying wait list data in order to meet numerical goals and receive a large monetary bonus. The VA head was fired; it was a scandal that attracted national attention.

In the social sciences there is something known as Campbell’s Law — attributed to a former colleague of mine, the social psychologist Donald T. Campbell. It goes as follows: “"The more any quantitative social indicator … is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."








Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Arizona Has No Concept of a "Conflict of Interest"

Last Friday, Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber resigned from office because of allegations that he used his influence to get employment for his fiancee. In Arizona, such conflicts of interest would not even raise an eyebrow. A few years back, Arizonans saw the Chairperson of the State Charter School Board award a charter to a non-profit foundation (which was really K12 Inc., the online school provider), then be hired by the foundation to head the Arizona Virtual Academy, and then be hired by K12 Inc. as a vice-president for something-or-other. She continues to occupy the latter two posts.

Arizona simply doesn't recognize things called conflicts of interest. I could list dozens concerning public education. A staff member the Board of Regents once told me that in Arizona if you declare your connections, then you can no longer be accused of having a conflict of interest. Perhaps this qualifies as some minimal level of ethical behavior.

A new flagrant conflict of interest has just become apparent to me. A man named Greg Miller is president of the Arizona State Board of Education. There is also a man named Greg Miller who is CEO of Challenge Charter School in Glendale, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix. Matching up photos of the Board president and the charter CEO leaves no doubt that these two individuals are one in the same Greg Miller. Mr. Miller, a civil engineer for 25 years, founded Challenge Charter School in the late 1990s and for a while served as principal. His current title is CEO. Mrs. Pam Miller, his wife, once served on a school board; the Challenge Charter Schools website lists no current duties for Mrs. Miller. But daughter Wendy Miller was appointed Principal of Challenge Charter School the same year in which she earned her MBA.

Challenge Charter School Inc. is registered as a non-profit organization so it must file an IRS 990 form, which is publicly available. Here's what that form shows as salaries of the top management for 2013.

Greg Miller, the CEO of a school "system" with about 650 students, is being compensated to the tune of $145,000 annually. His wife receives the same salary, though her duties are never enumerated at the website and her position is only described as "Executive Director/Vice-PR," whatever Vice-PR is. The Miller's daughter Wendy, who has degrees in Public Administration and Business, receives a salary of more than $120,000 for acting as Principal/Secretary. Basically, the Miller family, while working assiduously 60 hours a week each as reported on their IRS form, is taking about $425,000 a year out of the coffers for salary. This nepotism and "business" attitude of the founders has not been lost on the disgruntled parents who have reviewed the school online.

Challenge Charter School portrays itself as a highly academic school, claiming to be Arizona's first official Core Knowledge school. Like many charter schools of its ilk, the appeal of this heavy academic focus seems to wane quickly in the eyes of parents. Enrollments drop from more than 100 in 1st grade to fewer than 50 in grade 6. As with many charter schools advertising themselves as "academic" in diverse communities, Challenge Charter School is contributing to racial and socio-economic segregation in the Glendale community. The enrollment of Challenge Charter is almost 85% White and Asian, where as the enrollment of Canyon Elementary, a traditional public school just 12 blocks distant, is 70% White and Asian. But more strikingly, Canyon Elementary has 40% of its 400 student eligible for Free/Reduced Price Lunch, while Challenge Charter has less than half that percentage.

Crony capitalism, conflicts of interest, charter schools lining the pockets of amateur entrepreneurs, "quasi-private" schools being operated at public expense, an increasingly segregated state school system ... it's just education reform Arizona style.


Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Arizona Education Politics Getting Weirder and Weirder

It all started when Doug Ducey won the governor's race last November. Ducey, who cut his political teeth as a student at Arizona State University editing the campus newspaper, made his millions in the ice cream business (Cold Stone Creamery). Immediately upon taking office he instituted a hiring freeze and promised to increase school choice. That same mid-term election saw a virtual unknown Republican school board member, Diane Douglas, defeat ASU Education professor David Garcia for the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Douglas vowed to dump Common Core on grounds of its being federal intrusion into a state responsibility, but policy had nothing to do with her victory; if you had an R behind your name in the mid-term election, you won.

Two days ago, Douglas fired two of the top administrators of the State Board of Education -- Executive Director and Asst. Executive Director. It's not hard to imagine why; they were far down the road of installing the Common Core in Arizona schools. Although Douglas is ex officio member of the State Board, the Governor questioned whether she had the authority to hire these two persons and he reinstated them. Yesterday, the whole business erupted in a public fight between Ducey and Douglas over whether the latter has the authority to fire people in her department. After a prayer breakfast Thursday morning, the Governor was barely out the door before he gave reporters an insincere piece of his mind: "[I'm] sorry she chose to go down that path." Douglas shot back. Ducey, she said, is establishing a "shadow faction of charter school operators and former state superintendents [referring to Lisa Graham Keegan who supported Douglas's opponent in the election] who support Common Core and moving funds from traditional public schools to charter schools."

Score +1 for Douglas for speaking the truth. The Arizona Senate has moved forward quickly in this session to support the privatization of K-12 education. The Senate education committee has already approved bills that would 1) award vouchers (at 90% state per pupil expenditure) to any student whose application has been turned down to open enroll in a public school or a charter school within 25 miles of their home, and 2) award a voucher to any student on an Indian reservation. Clearly the Republicans are flexing their muscles after the November victory; such radical pro-voucher legislating has never before made it into law in Arizona. Perhaps this is the year.


Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Leonard Waks Explains How Most Education Reformers Operate

I don't think that Leonard Waks blogs. But he posted a long message on his Facebook page that really captures so much of the madness that currently masquerades as education reform. In the interest of promulgating his message, I have reproduced his post below — without asking him and without his permission. (Who could possibly object to having their thoughts shared far and wide?) What Waks argues here is that the modus operandi of education reform is not unique to education, but in fact is a strategy for effecting change in many other areas of modern life. Just to be clear; what follows is not my writing, but I agree with all of the ideas expressed.
Leonard Waks writes:

Most of my professional energy over the last fifty years has been devoted to attacking educational tyranny. There is a pattern in this form of tyranny.

First, a crisis is manufactured. The nation is at risk. The sky is falling. None of this is innocent; there are interests pushing crisis - those who will profit from it either by gaining bureaucratic power or commercial profit. Next, the situation is grossly oversimplified. We are committing educational suicide because our test scores are falling. (In the education case, the data were simply misinterpreted - our always low test scores were actually rising). So we fall into simplistic thinking where a single criterion variable is substituted for a balanced picture about what education should achieve.

Next a magic bullet solution is found - involving a direct approach to that single variable. The problem is test scores, so we will impose a test-prep and standardized test regime. All thinking is then reduced to "what works". My friends in the educational research community will remember how the department of education rejected all research proposals that were not about "what works" - and what works = what raises test scores.

The solution may have some impact on the criterion variable - test scores may go up. In some cases the data is simply falsified to make believe that they do.

Then a coercive regime is imposed where every school district and teacher is compelled to fall into line. Test prep galore. No child left behind = do what we mandate or lose your funding - and for teachers, do what we mandate or lose your job.

There are costs. The most significant costs are that in a test-prep environment, thinking, productive struggle, self-directed learning, teacher-student cooperative projects, the arts, and the pleasure of learning get eliminated from the curriculum. These are, however, the factors that matter most in education.

The costs, however, are mere "side effects" that are not measured. We have a single criterion of evaluation - test scores. So when the question arises about the true costs of the test-prep regime, no one knows. This is educational tyranny, and it is prevalent.

Now I do not want to make a strict analogy with the vaccine war, but I do want to call attention to some parallels. We start with a manufactured crisis. We have 100 active cases today. People might remember the Ebola crisis. We had, if i am not mistaken, zero fatalities. The crisis is not innocent - again there are powerful interests in play. (A note: I do not know the ages of the affected, or whether they had already been vaccinated. Age matters, because for older people measles is a nasty business).

Second, the situation is grossly oversimplified. We have to wipe out this deadly scourge.

Third, a magic bullet is found. vaccines "work". And no child can be left behind.

A single criterion variable is used - in this case the reduction in cases of the childhood diseases (MMR).

A coercive regime is then put in place to assure that everyone is compliant.

As in the education case, the vaccine regime has at least potential costs. For example, vaccine immunity is temporary while natural immunity from the disease is permanent. So those who get the vaccine have less (or no) immunity as adults, when, unlike in childhood, the disease is really nasty.

Some data suggests that measles is now more concentrated among adults.

The vaccine dissenters hypothesize that in addition those who have gone through the childhood diseases have better general immunity and are less susceptible to other adult diseases ranging from MS to cancer.

With the single variable approach - the reduction in the childhood diseases - no studies are made of such "side effects" as compromised adult immunity. If we ask about the costs, the answer is 'who knows?'

So to make my own position clear: I am not anti-vaccine. I am totally for the tetanus vaccine - which actually provides better long term immunity than the disease itself. I am for the polio vaccine - because polio was a really nasty business - I saw my friends dropping like flies in the summers of the 1950s, and saw the vaccine wiping polio out.

I am not a dissenter on the MMR vaccine. But I don't know enough to endorse it wholeheartedly. I want to know more about it's long term effects.

What am i against? The pattern of manufactured crisis, gross oversimplification, single variable 'science', magic bullet solutions, and coercive implementation.

~Leonard Waks


Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Cream Rises to the Top in the Charters?

The cream doesn't rise to the top in the charter schools. It starts at the top.

Charter schools have long been known for their filtering out at the admissions stage of students who might require special services or who might lower their test score average. BASIS charter schools are notorious for requiring long essays from applicants and for flunking out students who do badly on tests. BASIS middle school classes of a few hundred are winnowed to a few dozen by graduation time. BASIS – which operates 10 charter schools in Arizona, one in D.C. and one in San Antonio – opened BASIS Phoenix Central in downtown Phoenix in 2014. A BASIS spokesperson points out that the public elementary schools in the area are "underperforming." BASIS has a plan for that, or rather BASIS has no plan to improve the schools of central Phoenix. It simply has a plan that will attract the better students from the surrounding public schools and leave them further impoverished.

Pennsylvania is challenging Arizona as the school choice capital of the world. The Keystone state already offers an array of alternatives to the traditional public schools: charters, virtual charters, and who knows what other inventions. Some charter schools in Philadelphia have recently been discovered charging a "application fee"; and some administer a questionnaire to determine if a prospective student meet need special education services or English-language learning instruction. Almost needless to say, such needs do not increase the odds of acceptance.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools announced in 2014 that the number of public charter schools operating in the United States has surpassed 6,400 for the first time with 2.5 million students. The public charter school movement in the 2013-14 school year saw a net gain of 436 schools enrolling 288,000 more students than in 2012-13. The charter movement has become the fastest growing segment of our public education system.

Colorado added 9,000 students and 14 new public charter schools. The Walton Family Foundation announced that it has now surpassed $10 million in startup investments in Denver with the support of four charter schools in Denver in 2013. In addition, with 2013 investments, the foundation has now supported the startup of 1,500 schools, one in four charter schools in the nation, through its Public Charter Startup Grant program. The foundation has now supported the startup of more than 40 Denver charter schools since 1998.

To some, growth is a good thing. Others see the growth of the charter school sector as the spreading of fraud and under-performance, and the continued resegregation of the nation's public school system.


Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dr. Raymond, Please Meet Mr. Kenneth Boulding

Wikipedia describes Kenneth Ewart Boulding as “… an economist, educator, peace activist, poet, religious mystic, devoted Quaker, systems scientist, and interdisciplinary philosopher. “ Indeed, Ken Boulding was all of those things and many more. At the University of Michigan in the 1950-60s, he founded the General Systems society with Ludwig von Bertalanffy. Born in Liverpool in 1910, he was educated at Oxford (Masters degree).
His textbook, Economic Analysis (1941) was virtually the introduction to Keynesianism to American academics. He never obtained a doctorate, though surely he never felt the want of one due to the many honorary doctorates he received. In his long career, he served as president of the Amer. Econ. Assoc. and the AAAS, among other organizations. He died in Boulder in 1993.

I was very lucky to be situated at the University of Colorado when Boulding left Michigan in 1967 to join the Economic Department at Boulder. I had joined the faculty there in 1966. Within a few years the word spread that this new fellow in Economics was someone to listen to. Twice, in the early 1970s, I sat through his undergraduate course in General Systems. The undergraduates had no idea how lucky they were; I was enthralled. Boulding was a Liverpudlian, and that coupled with a pronounced stammer made listening to him lecture extremely demanding. But somehow the effort produced greater concentration. I can recall so many of the things he said though more than 40 years have passed. “”The invention of the correlation coefficient was the greatest disaster of the 19th century, for it permitted the subtitution of arithmetic for thinking.”

From 1969 through 1971, I was editing the Review of Educational Research for the American Educational Research Association (AERA). In the office, I enjoyed a few small privileges in connection with the 1971 Annual Meeting. For one, I could invite a speaker to address the assembled conventioneers. I invited Boulding. An expanded version of his talk was published in the Review of Educational Research (Vol. 42, No. 1, 1972, pp. 129-143). I have never read anything else by an economist addressing schooling that equals it.

Here is the merest sampling of what he wrote:

Schools may be financed directly out of school taxes, in which case the school system itself is the taxing authority and there is no intermediary, or they may be financed by grants from other taxing authorities, such as states or cities. In any case, the persons who receive the product-whether this is knowledge, skill, custodial care, or certification-are not the people who pay for it. This divorce between the recipient of the product and the payer of the bills is perhaps the major element in the peculiar situation of the industry that may lead to pathological results. (pp. 134-135)
Boulding originated the notion of the “grants economy” in which A grants a payment to B who delivers a service or product to C. Of course, this turned on its head the paradigm used by most economists, who imagine C paying B for services or products. When Boulding referred to this grants economy underlying schooling as leading to “pathological results,” he was referring to the fact that the schooling industry is “not normal,” i.e. does not follow the course of classical economic models. In the years ensuing since Boulding’s early forays into this notion, the grants economy has become increasingly important to understanding a nation’s economy.

Boulding was considered a bit of a rebel. David Latzko wrote of Boulding that “The narrow bounds of the economics discipline could not contain his interests and talents.” Perhaps this accounts for why many traditional economists have not followed him where reality leads. Perhaps this is why Dr. Margaret Raymond could pronounce so recently that “And it’s the only industry/sector [schooling]where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.” In fact, the “market mechanism” fails to work in many sectors.

But back to Dr. Raymond. Margaret Raymond is the head of the Hoover Institution’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes. As key researcher in charge of the first big CREDO study of charter schools that dropped on the charter school lobby with a big thud: charter schools no better than old fashion public schools, some good, some really bad. And then more recently, CREDO under Raymond’s direction conducted a study of charter schools in Ohio, a locale that has known its problems attempting to keep charter schools out of the newspapers and their operators out of jail. What did this second CREDO charter school study find? Charter schools in Ohio are a mess.

All of this bad news for the charter school folks caused Dr. Raymond to go before the Cleveland Club and confess thusly:

This is one of the big insights for me. I actually am kind of a pro-market kinda girl. But it doesn’t seem to work in a choice environment for education. I’ve studied competitive markets for much of my career. That’s my academic focus for my work. And it’s the only industry/sector [schooling] where the market mechanism just doesn’t work.
Of course, it is positively absurd to think that schooling is the only “industry” in which free markets just don’t work. And Dr. Raymond didn’t give up entirely on the free market ideology for education — she would probably have to find a professional home outside the Hoover Institution if she did. She went on to tell the Cleveland Club that more transparency and information for parents will probably do the trick.
Frankly parents have not been really well educated in the mechanisms of choice.… I think the policy environment really needs to focus on creating much more information and transparency about performance than we’ve had for the 20 years of the charter school movement.
So parents just aren’t smart enough to be trusted to make choices in a free market of schooling, and they need more information, like test scores, I presume. I’ll leave Dr. Raymond at this point, and recommend that she and her associates at the Hoover Institution spend a little more time with Kenneth Boulding’s writings.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Mirabile Dictu! State Departments of Education are Political!

Brad McQueen is a teacher in Tucson, Arizona. He’s suing the State Superintendent of Instruction. I’ll try to make a long story short.

McQueen was appointed to the Department of Education standardized testing committee. The State Board of Education adopted the Common Core in 2010. But McQueen spoke out against the Core in a book entitled The Cult of Common Core. And he followed that up with some negative comments about Common Core in a podcast on a Tucson radio station and in an article in a Phoenix newspaper. This proved to be a little too much insubordination for the Superintendent’s office, according to emails flying around between Associate Superintendents: “FYI regarding a teacher named Brad McQueen. He is on a roll criticizing AZCCRS [Arizona College & Career Ready Standards]. … just thought you might want to check your list of teacher teams [from which teachers are selected to serve on committee].” The Deputy Associate Superintendent to whom the email was addressed replied that a note had been placed in McQueen’s file. Shortly thereafter he was uninvited from Department of Education committees. McQueen wants a) the negative notes purged from his file, b) to be reinstated to the committees on which he served, and c) attorney fees.

McQueen’s case struck a resonate chord in my memory. Back in the 1990s, I was invited to serve on an AZ Department of Education committee. Our committee was to advise the Department on a test that would be given to persons seeking a teaching credential in the state of Arizona. The contract for test development had been let to a company in New Hampshire. The test was a paper & pencil multiple-choice test in which the examinee was presented with a classroom situation and asked to pick the best action to take. We warned to company about the arbitrariness of cut-score problem, to no avail; they assured us that the Angoff Method would be used. That this assurance gave us no comfort was passed over with no comment.

But let’s back up. There were 6 or 8 of us on the Technical Advisory Committee. The Chairperson was a professor from the University of Nevada Las Vegas who specialized in measurement. He flew into Phoenix in the morning for the meetings and flew home that evening; round trip air-fares between Phoenix and Las Vegas in those days were about $70. Two or three representatives of the New Hampshire company were present at every meeting of our committee.

Our committee eventually arrived at the point where we said that we could not vouch for the technical adequacy of the proposed test unless a validity study were done. In other words, let’s have observers spend some time in the classrooms of certified teachers, rate their performance, and then see if the paper-pencil test can distinguish the better teachers from the poorer one. This position taken by the committee did not sit well with the people from New Hampshire. It would cost money — money not written into the contract. But our committee stood firm, for a while.

Before the next meeting of the committee could be called, we members received a letter from the Associate Superintendent of Instruction. Our services would no longer be needed. We were being dismissed. The reason? The Department could no longer afford to fly the Chairperson into town from Las Vegas. In point of fact, the Department was spending more money on bagels and coffee for the committee’s breaks than they were spending on the chairperson’s plane ticket.

Shortly thereafter, word spread that the Department had reconstituted the technical advisory committee under the chairmanship of a professor from East Lansing, Michigan. None of the previous committee members was serving on this new committee, and this new chairman’s views on high-stakes testing were known to be much less critical than ours.

No one sued. Life went on. I suspect that most of us simply accepted the fact that this is how things are done in an office in which the head is the third highest elected position in the state government. Maybe we should have reacted how Brad McQueen has done, twenty years later.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Another BASIS Charter School Mother Speaks

I received this feedback from a mother of a former student at a BASIS charter school. The note was stimulated by an earlier posting on this blog about problems at BASIS schools. I haven't asked the person's permission to post her thoughts here, so they will appear anonymously.
Dear Dr. Glass:
This morning, I read your post of Jennifer McDowell's encounter with BASIS, Inc., Charter School. My daughter, who is an exceptionally gifted student but also has moderate asthma, attended the school for three years. I was so relieved to read, for the first time, a more realistic viewpoint of the school, as for the last two years, I have tried to explain to others how the national high school ranking for the school as published by U.S. News is only reflective of test scores for a much smaller student body than in most public schools, and the ranking also does not reflect quality of education for the majority rather than the minority. My daughter currently attends a larger school, however, the school's sole purpose is not to compete in the number of AP tests and scores the students take and develop the school's curriculum based on those AP tests, but rather on how to best educate the entire, and larger student body that is very diverse in many ways including physical and intellectual abilities. Thank you for your post.

Sincerely.


Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of the National Education Policy Center, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dear Teacher, You Are Not the Most Important Thing in the Universe

The Arizona Republic has a very conservative Editorial Board for a very conservative newspaper in a very conservative state. So when they address the subject of teacher preparation, it’s no surprise that they parrot folk wisdom about schools and teachers.

In addressing Arne Duncan’s new guidelines on teachers colleges, the Editorial Board strikes its closing notes by perpetrating one of the more pernicious myths about teachers and schools.

Plenty of research has come to a common-sense conclusion: Nothing is more important to the success of a student than a highly qualified teacher. But we don’t have enough of them, nor will we as long as teacher colleges are not held accountable.
Now that’s a statement that packs a big load of deceit into just 43 words. First, it’s highly doubtful that the Arizona Republic Editorial Board has made itself familiar with “plenty of research” about education. Second, in their review of “plenty of research,” apparently their faith in the ability of test scores to hold teachers colleges “accountable” was never shaken?* But worst of all is the repeat of that tired wheeze that nothing is more important than a teacher.

What makes the All-Important-Teacher myth so pernicious is that teachers themselves occasionally and the general public usually take it as a compliment when in fact it is an attack on teacher tenure and professional autonomy.

The facts of the matter are that teachers are not the most important thing determining what a child gets out of school. What a child brings to school is much more important. Jim Coleman showed this in 1966 in Equality of Educational Opportunity, and though he softened his position slightly in 1972 when he accorded a bit more important to schooling that he had 6 years prior, out-of-school influences remained dominant in determining how much kids learned during their years in school. Parents, home and neighborhood conditions, physical health, language use and language complexity in the home, whether the student lives in a psychologically and physically healthy environment with access to competent medical care, access to books, games and activities that prepare the student for school, and even genetic endowment can greatly contribute to or restrict a child’s development. What walks in the door on Day #1 has more to do with what leaves on Day #2340 (180 X 13) than what transpires during the few hours of students' lives that they are in the classroom, attentive, and capable of absorbing what that teacher is talking about.

Teachers are wonderful human beings. For many children, teachers are the most caring and competent individual whom they will encounter during their lifetime. But teachers cannot undo the damage inflicted on youngsters by a society in which nearly half of all births are to unwed mothers and in which more than 20% of children live below the poverty level (income below $23,000 for a family of 4).

So, my fellow teachers, beware. Don’t fall for the false compliment that you are so important — so important that you should be fired if your students’ test scores are lagging behind, so important that your school’s graduation rate is a moral and a civil rights issue, so important that you should be replaced by an inexperienced liberal arts major on a two-year resume building junket.


*Just take a look at Bruce Baker’s analysis of the absurdity of judging teachers by their students’ test scores.

Gene V Glass
Arizona State University
National Education Policy Center
University of Colorado Boulder


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent the official position of NEPC, Arizona State University, nor the University of Colorado Boulder.

Friday, November 28, 2014

David Berliner Tells Arne Duncan How to Do Teacher Education Right

Improving Teacher Education

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the Obama administration want to improve teacher education. Me too. I always have. So I went to the president of the university I was then working at and showed him university data that I had collected. I informed him that a) we were running the cheapest program on campus, even cheaper to run than the English Literature and the History programs; and b) that some of our most expensive programs to run, computer science and various engineering programs, produced well-trained graduates that left the state. But teachers stayed in the state. I told my president he was wasting the states resources and investing unwisely.

I told him that with the same amount of money as we spend on the students that leave the state I could design one year clinical programs so every teacher does clinical rotations in the classrooms of schools with different kinds of students, rotations modeled on medical education.

I said more money was needed to pay the teachers recognized as expert, say Board certified teachers, so I could place teachers in training to observe the regions’ best teachers. I said that more money would also allow me to design video labs for viewing great teaching and for doing micro-teaching so that future teachers could experience, in safe environments, how to teach. In such micro-teaching classroom they would receive feedback on how they taught from the students they just taught and from supervisory teachers who work in the laboratory. I modeled my proposal for a lab on the then newly outfitted kinesiology laboratory of which the university was quite proud.

I said that more money would allow me to buy a five bedroom house in the lowest income community and have teachers who volunteered to spend two weeks there under the tutelage of the communities leaders — their priests and ministers, their concerned parents, the social workers there. The teachers would be the guests of the community and we would pay the community leaders to feed the teachers, to take them on tours around the neighborhoods so they can learn about the strengths of these communities, not their deficits.

I said more money would allow me to provide a one-year support system for all new teachers placed in our region. The support would be provided by clinical professors of practice that visited each new teacher from our university about every ten days. Their job would be to help the new teachers emotionally (teaching requires a great deal of emotional labor), to help them schedule time (teaching requires enormous time commitments) and to provide instructional support. I estimated that would cut the rate of teachers leaving the profession by half. A savings of significant amounts of state and local monies.

The president listened to my proposal and when I was through, he politely threw me out of his office! Charles Baron policy director for Democrats for Education Reform, quoted in the New York Times said it well: “I think you need to wake up the university presidents to the fact that schools of education can’t be A.T.M.s for the rest of the college or university.” Although so much is wrong with the policy recommendations of Democrats for Education Reform, in this case they sure have it right!

David C. Berliner
Emeritus Regents' Professor
Arizona State University


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent the official position of Arizona State University.