Tuesday, November 11, 2014

USED: Nothing-Burger with Cheese

According to Lyndsey Layton in the Washington Post, the Obama administration on Monday once again paid lip service to one of its less noted but more dumb ideas. They would like to shuffle teachers around. This is not a new thing-- I wrote about it last December:

Back in 2012, the USDOE published "Providing Effective Teachers for All Students" The most obvious focus of the report is on methods of assessing teacher effectiveness, with all the usual suspects in play. But this case study of five districts also considers what to do with the ratings once they've been manufactured ...er, I mean, tabulated with totally reliable data.

One of the ideas is, basically, to make your certified crappy teachers and your certified excellent teachers trade places. This is a stupid idea for many reasons, starting with the fact that we still don't have any useful way of identifying excellent (or not-so-excellent) teachers. So instead of trying to solve that riddle, states are declaring, as required by the Department of Education's NCLB/RTTT-fueled extortion waiver, that teachers will be evaluated at least in part based on standardized test results. Of course, we also know that poverty and poorly funded schools leaded inexorably to low standardized test results, so voila!-- teachers working in high poverty schools are far more likely to be teaching low-score students, and therefor far more likely to be "discovered" to be less excellent teachers. It's not that our most struggling students don't deserve excellent teachers-- it's that we don't have any real reason to believe that many of those excellent teachers are not already there.

I have explained this before. If you remove the roof from a classroom, whoever is in the classroom will get wet when it rains. If you say, "Hey, this teacher is all wet-- send me another one," it will make no difference. When the new teacher arrives, she will get wet, too.

You cannot improve this situation with threats. If you say, "Hey! The next wet teacher I find in this room is gonna get fired!" you will not get miraculously dry teachers standing in the rain. What you will get are teachers who want to keep their jobs saying, "No, I am NOT going to go teach in the roofless room, thankyouverymuch." And your roofless wet room will be occupied primarily by young teachers who didn't have other options or who believe that they'll be kept dry by their youth and enthusiasm and job offers from hedge funds for after they've finished.

This seems so obvious and yet clearly it isn't-- creating extra performance pressure without addressing the root causes of poor student performance absolutely guarantees to do the OPPOSITE of recruiting teachers to those situations. "Don't you want to come here and risk your teaching career in difficult wet room with no support" is NOT a great recruiting line.

However, the Ed Department occasionally notices that No Child Left Behind (which is still actually the law governing education, as opposed to the pseudo-laws of Race to the Top waivers) requires every state to have an equity plan-- a plan for how we're going to shuffle around those teachers to get the great ones in the wet rooms.

The rest of why this law is stupid is because nobody knows how to do it. When it comes to moving excellent teachers to low-performing classrooms, there are only a few possibilities:

Guilt trip: Your nation needs you. It's the right thing to do. There is no more important work in our country today. On the one hand, this has the advantage of being related to actual truth. On the other hand, it is a challenge for state and federal education officials to convey that they actually believe any of it. Nevertheless, their best bet is probably to convince teachers to take one for the team.

Bribery: Offer them obscene amounts of money to do it. And I mean pro football obscene. This actually makes sense. We pay pro athletes huge amounts of money because they are basically drawing their entire career salary in a few years, because their careers will probably be over by the time they're thirty. Same thing here. If we're going to ask teachers to work in career-ending classrooms, let's pay them their entire career salary for it. But I'll go cheap-- let's say $350,000 a year. The problem, of course, is that reformsters want to pay most teachers less rather than more.

Extortion: Pull teacher credentials at random and tell them they have to teach in low performing schools or else they will lose their teaching certification (Massachusetts got confused and is proposing the reverse-- teach at a low-performing school and then we'll take your certificate.)

Trickery: Tell teachers they've won a trip to Bermuda or Alaska or that nice farm where families send their very old dogs. When they discover they've actually ended up in a low-performance school, it will be too late.

Rendering: Wait outside a teacher's classroom. Tie a bag over her head and throw her in a van. Easy peasy. If anybody asks questions, just explain that she moved to that nice farm where families send their very old dogs.

There may also be a possibility of implementing indentured servitude, but essentially the law and every succeeding administration to work under it is forced to depend on wishful thinking and hopeful thoughts to implement the Great Educator Shift. 

Fortunately, nobody is really asking states to actually do anything. There is a deadline for submitting a plan, but no requirement that the plan be actually feasible, nor any requirement that said plan actually be implemented.

Michael Petrilli gets the quote-of-the-day award. "This is a nothing-burger," said the president of the Fordham Institute. Which I think pretty much nails it, except that not only can we not find the beef, but I'm pretty sure there's no bun, though there is plenty of cheese.


  1. A nothing-burger, topped with nothing, and a big helping of nothing on the side. *sigh*

    As much as it pains me to agree with Mike Petrilli, once in a while, it does happen - and this is one of those times.

  2. Not saying it should happen, but if a district made the teachers in the highest scoring school in their district trade places with the teachers in the lowest scoring school in their district for a year, at least they'd have proof that teachers don't determine test scores. But who would want such obvious proof?

  3. "We pay pro athletes huge amounts of money because they are basically drawing their entire career salary in a few years, because their careers will probably be over by the time they're thirty."

    No, we don't. We pay pro athletes huge amounts of money because they possess rare skills in a high-demand industry. MMA fighters also have short careers, but they are not paid nearly as well because few people care about their sport.

  4. You're 10 times more likely to die in a hospital bed than in your bed at home.
    So if you're hospitalized, either bring your own bed or sleep on the floor.

    Ridiculous?? This is the same sort of ignorance that is continuously published in the media, day after day, regarding "good" and "bad" teachers. We might have sat together throughout our college careers, but some of us ended up in poverty affected schools and some didn't.
    I want to know which elite private schools these policymakers attended. Those are the teachers who need to be fired. They apparently never taught the difference between correlation and causation.