Wednesday, September 2, 2015

[Update-OOPS] FEE Draws a Circle

UPDATE: It was bound to happen sooner or later. I simply screwed up. Layton's article was not about FEE (Foundation for Excellence in Education) but about FES (Families for Excellent Schools). Much of this piece still stands, and FES is a reformster hedge-fund faux grass roots group, but there is no pretending that I didn't anchor the whole business on an incorrect reading of which group was involved. I owe Layton an apology, as well as the couple-hundred people who read this in its original version. My apologies to all-- I blew it; I should have been more careful.

One of the larger mysteries of the education debates is why major journalistic outlets keep publishing "research" that is so transparently crap.

Some of this has become a regular thing, like US News' symbiotic relationship with NCTQ, a group that regularly publishes ratings for college programs that don't exist and once "researched" college teacher prep programs by looking through college commencement programs.

But in yesterday's Washington Post, Lyndsey Layton, a real reporter who usually covers actual education news, wasted a chunk of space on a new "report" from Jeb Bush's Families for Excellence in Education. She does identify FEE as an "advocacy" group, but that glosses over the fact that people who want to place advertisements for their business in a major newspaper ought to be paying for advertising space, not having their "advocacy" presented as if it's actual news.

FEE, a group that lives and breathes to see public schools replaced with a more profitable and selective charter system, has announced yet another attempt to flay the dead horse of a talking point that good teachers make all the difference, and that students on the bottom of the poverty and achievement curve get the worst teachers.

How can anyone measure such a thing, you ask? Simple.

You use teacher ratings to "find" the bad teachers. Teacher ratings are based primarily on test scores, so we "find" the worst teachers by looking for the students with the worst scores.

Then we check to see what kind of scores are achieved by students who are taught by the worst teachers, and-- voila!!-- students who have those teachers get the worst scores!

This is awesome research. It's like asking, "I wonder what color most bad dressers wear? I'll just find all the bad dressers by defining a bad dresser as anyone who wears yellow. The once I've identified those bad dressers, I will check to see what colors they're wearing! And I'll make the ratings all in numbers, because numbers are magical."

Of course, FEE's "research" is bolstered by the well-known connection between poverty and test results, so that low test scores/bad teachers will line up with poor, under-supported schools.

Ironically, it is exactly the kind of test-based teacher ratings and the attempts to tie those ratings to job security and even pay in some locations that turns the whole scenario into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because if you are an excellent teacher with a high ranking, why would you want to go to a school where the less test-adept students will tank your rating? Linking test results to teacher ratings and teacher ratings to professional rewards turns every high-poverty, low-achieving school into Career Ender Academy. And all without ever truly measuring actual teacher effectiveness.

Layton includes the disclaimer about FEE, and she gives Randi Weingarten ample space to rebut, but none of that deals with the humongous elephantine question in the foyer, which is this: why are we even talking about this bogus tissue of a fake study in the first place? FEE's "expertise" in education is based on two things-- their repeated self-appointment as experts and medias willingness to give them space.

This continues to be one of the most frustrating features of the reformster commandeering of education policy-- people who don't know what the hell they're talking about constantly being treated as if they are legitimate experts, while people who actually work in the field have no say and are reduced to things like cranky posts on backwater blogs. It's as if the discussion of quantum physics was suddenly dominated by sixth graders or hospital surgical protocols were set by airplane pilots. It is truly deeply senseless.


  1. "It's as if the discussion of quantum physics was suddenly dominated by sixth graders or hospital surgical protocols were set by airplane pilots." Exactly.

  2. The comments on the article by Layton are even worse. :-(