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Atlanta Cheating Conspiracy

12 Oct

The newest national scandal to hit the education scene is the discovery that primary students in the Atlanta public schools system changed their answers from incorrect choices to correct ones in excess of 250,000 times on the 2009 Criterion Referenced Competency Test. The CRCT is a standardized test administered to gauge compliance with federal No Child Left Behind requirements. The exam erasures represent a rate of answer changes well in excess of the norm for this test.  A single fourth grade class managed to change its answer choice to the correct one an average of 27 times.

Fifty-eight Atlanta schools were flagged for possible cheating. The school district launched an investigation which looked into the matter at just the dozen schools with the highest erasure rates. The investigation ultimately found that there was no concerted effort to boost scores. Since the release of this report in early August, the Governor of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Education have stepped in to conduct their own evaluations.

A major underlying issue here is to what extent Atlanta schools will be eligible to receive Title I money when the investigations are complete. Title I is federal money given by the federal government to states to distribute to schools with a higher population of indigent students. Any school with 40% or more student qualifying for free or reduced price school lunches is eligible for Title I grants. However, schools that receive the designation of “distinguished” may qualify for additional grant money. This designation requires improvements on the CRCT assessments and attendance over the previous three consecutive years. Of the 57 schools which received the designation for the 2009-2010 year, 39 were flagged for excessive exam erasures. Unfortunately it appears this issue may not be isolated to just this year, the Atlanta Journal Constitution has reported on statistically unlikely increases on the CRCT assessments in both 2008 and 2009.

NYC Teacher Tenure, an education

29 Sep

Earlier this week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced his plan to change teacher tenure for public school teachers in New York City. He made the announcement as part of the Education Nation summit organized and broadcast by NBC to promote education reform efforts by local and national political and corporate leaders. In his speech, the Mayor revealed serious misgivings about the origins and purpose of tenure.

Tenure, as applies to New York public school teachers simply means that as part of a termination, a hearing will take place. Tenure does not mean “a job for life,” whether in literal or practical terms. A teacher can, at any point, be terminated for cause.

The Necessity of Tenure

The very first U.S. public school teacher tenure law enacted in the New Jersey. The intent of the law is to prevent the capricious and nefarious termination of undeserving teachers on the basis of nepotism, political favoritism, and otherwise arbitrary dismissals. (Citron 1985). While the tenure law removes discriminatory and subjective terminations as an option, there is still a bevy of grounds available to a principal or superintendent seeking to remove a teacher that is not fit for their position. The grounds listed below are those outlined in the NYS Education Law § 3012:

  1. Insubordination
  2. Conduct unbecoming a teacher
  3. Inefficiency
  4. Incompetence
  5. Physical or mental disability
  6. Neglect of duty
  7. Failure to maintain certification
  8. Immoral character

The argument against tenure is that it allows for the perpetual employment of ineffective and incompetent teachers. However, under the current law, those grounds are exactly that which would constitute just cause in the termination of a teacher. All a superintendent would have to do to effectuate the termination is prove the allegations.

The anti-tenure argument then becomes that the hearings required to prove the allegations are lengthy and costly. Public school teachers are not to blame for this bureaucracy and inefficiency. It seems scarcely just that they, as a profession, should be forced to relinquish rights for circumstances beyond their control.

How Tenure is Earned

The granting of tenure requires that a teacher hold a valid teaching certificate. Acquiring a valid teaching certificate usually requires thirty or more credits in one’s subject area at the undergraduate level, a master’s degree in education which provides a specific amount of credit hours in both the subject area and instructional methods. Then there are other requirements such as a background check, successful completion of three or more required examinations, and child abuse prevention workshops. These requirements are only for an initial teaching certificate. The initial certificate expires after a couple of years and before a teacher has taught the three years required before they are eligible for tenure, they must complete even more training to obtain a professional certificate.

As described by the 2010 UFT New Teacher Handbook:

the process for determining whether or not you will get tenure is rigorous, and tenure is not automatic at the end of the probationary period. You must: Complete all your state certification and city licensing requirements, file an application and receive professional certification. Have a record of satisfactory service during your probationary period. Be recommended for tenure by your principal.

Bloomberg on Tenure

On Tuesday’s episode of Brian Lehrer on WNYC, Michael Mulgrew, the president of the UFT suggested that Bloomberg may be understating his contribution to the “rubber stamp tenure” status quo to which he is so vehemently opposed. Bloomberg has had control over the New York City school system for approximately a decade, but seems to have chosen now as the time to address teacher tenure. Further, his attacks on tenure advocate changes to the system which are not changes at all as there are mechanisms to prevent the harms he insists need to be avoided. Specifically, those are that only good teachers receive tenure and that teachers should not be guaranteed a job for life.

I look forward to hearing from Mayor Bloomberg a specific actionable plan for how tenure can actually be changed. And because we must pander to the whims of education reformers by allowing them the benefit of backwards induction, I would further challenge the Mayor to produce evidence of correlation between any proposed real changes to the current tenure system to actual benefits to students and student learning. Without such hard evidence Bloomberg’s position appears irrational and raises questions about his credibility and ability to lead.

Shame on LA Weekly

27 Sep

A blog on the LA Weekly website posted an entry earlier today supporting the belief that the suicide of Rigoberto Ruelas, a Los Angeles elementary school teacher, was not motivated by the L.A. Times value-add analysis published weeks ago. The author of the post, J. Patrick Coolican, belittles Officer Tony Mendez who believes Ruelas’s suicide may have been motivated by the poor evaluation he received in the L.A. Times analysis, ridiculing Officer Mendez for not having a degree in psychiatry. And as any zealous truth-seeking reporter, Coolican is not deterred by the delicate nature of the subject matter. No sir, he further rails on Officer Mendez because “as in any suicide, there are many questions unanswered: Did he suffer from a history depression?  How was his family life? What kind of life did he lead outside work? Dr., er, Officer Mendez offers no clues to any of these questions.”

…luckily we have Dr., er…, Reporter Coolican to enlighten us that perhaps contrary to what Officer Mendez believes, “[s]uicide is one of the most mysterious of all human mysteries.” Coolican also provides overwhelmingly enlightening insight into Ruelas’s psyche by indicating that “to pin the blame on what amounts to a bad performance review at work is quite a thing.” Except that, as Coolican fails to recognize or acknowledge, most bad performance reviews are private, the results shielded even from immediate colleagues. They do not usually reach well over a million people in print, with the potential to reach several millions more via a freely accessible website for weeks after the issuance of the review. Coolican also readily ignores that anyone could be so serious about their profession especially since “Ruelas was named along with hundreds and hundreds of other ineffective teachers among the 6,000 the Times scored in its series.”

Yes, apparently Mr. Coolican has vanquished Officer Mendez’s claims by showing how ridiculous it was for him to delve so deeply in Ruelas’s personal motivations and psyche. Its not like his part of his job is to help determine the cause and nature of deaths of persons in his jurisdiction, or anything… oh wait. How silly indeed for one man to publicly proclaim he might even begin to understand why another has been moved to take his own life…

27 Sep

Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan announced today on MSNBC’s Education Nation event a new website to promote the teaching profession. The website leads users through a flowchart outlining a potential path to teaching. It lists scholarships and grants available and expects to list teaching job openings in the near future.

The website is a nice introductory resource for anyone looking into teaching as a potential career path, unfortunately however the truth of the matter is that many schools and school districts simply cannot afford to hire at this time. Also at Education Nation, Secretary Duncan urged that we focus on the big picture and that he expects five million new teaching jobs will be available within the next five years.

Facebook Cares?

23 Sep

Mark Zuckerberg, of Facebook fame, is expected to announce a gift of $100 million to Newark schools on the Oprah show this Friday, September 24th. I spotted this story on Huffington Post, which specifies that Zuckerberg intends to establish a foundation using Facebook stock, to benefit education in America, and specifically education in Newark.

The WSJ explains: “[u]nder terms of the understanding between Mr. Zuckerberg, the Republican Mr. Christie and the Democratic Mr. Booker, the mayor would become the governor’s representative to devise plans for the schools.” Hmm… The NYT even reports there has been speculation that Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of Education for Washington D.C. will go to New Jersey.

Having attended the most competitive law school in the country (Yale), Corey Booker automatically gets my respect for being brilliant. However, this increasing push for education governance by people who have not actually worked in (or even studied) education is disconcerting. The underlying insinuation seems to be that control should be centralized… I get that. But why aren’t we looking to education experts to execute that authority? Have we decided that there is not teacher, principal, or even Harvard GSE or Teacher’s College Ed.D. that can make a contribute of any value?? I think my puzzle is a piece short.

I also still haven’t figured out why so many big for-profits have made education the cause du jour. When I saw this story I automatically assumed Zuckerberg must be from Newark. He’s not. Apparently he has no connection to Newark whatsoever except that he and Booker met at a conference in July and have kept in touch about education. I bet I couldn’t meet anyone today who would be willing to give me $100 million in two months. Education seems an odd cause for huge companies to support, especially when the support comes with subtle or outward expressions of how the cause should be helped.

I will continue sleuthing.

Value-add analysis of TFA fellows?

21 Sep

As you must have heard by now, last month the L.A. Times prepared a value-add evaluation of many public school teachers in Los Angeles. The insinuation of this analysis, of course, appears to be that low-performing teachers continue to fail students year after year because teachers’ unions have made it so difficult to terminate bad teachers.

The L.A. Times and others have indicated their belief that teacher quality is the single-most important factor in improving student performance. Virtually all the measures under the current ed reform movement have to do with improving teacher and principal quality. TFA is just one of the several programs and initiatives being promoted by education reformers as those which will save education.

Ed reformers generally believe the following factors serve as a good indicator of whether a teacher will be able to effect significant improvement in his or her student’s scores:

  1. Elite education
  2. High academic performance
  3. Youth

This is what ed reformers mean when they use the term “best and brightest” in describing the type of teachers they would like to attract. TFA’s fellows generally adhere to this top school/top grades/fresh-out-of-undergrad formula. Given this, I thought it might be interesting to see how Teach for America fellows stacked up against the general pool. The obvious problem with this project is that I simply wouldn’t know which of the teachers in the database are TFA. But let’s say I was somehow able to acquire such a list, the vast majority of those fellows would not appear in the database.

The analysis by the L.A. Times included only 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers who taught from 2002-2003 academic year through the 2008-2009 academic year. This would mean that the even the newest teachers to be captured in the analysis have six years of teaching under their belts. It is widely accepted that the vast majority of TFA fellows will have left teaching before that time. In fact the authors of a recent study Teach for America: A Review of the Evidence, found that over 80% of TFA members leave by the end of their third year.

It appears the value-add database of teacher performance can only help to demoralize and embarrass current teachers but is of no use to the rest of us in asssesing whether the “best and brightest” are a better alternative.

Changing the Narrative

20 Sep

Here, Sabrina of the Failing Schools blog talks about the “single story” that has emerged on the current state of education (e.g.: “status quo” v. “radical reform”).  What she calls the Crisis Narrative.