It’s hard to believe that Obama has been in office for a mere forty days … the passage of the stimulus package, his inaugural address and his not quite State of the Union address, and, the gleaming Republican knives being honed. A political maelstrom is spinning about us.
A tumbling stock market and dire warning after dire warning have gulped up the air … another major announcement, or two, every single day, from the economy, to foreign policy, a true whirlwind.
On the education front we see immediate good news, and, from my perspective, long term bad news. The stimulus package plugs the leaking educational dikes and prevents, or, sharply diminishes potential layoffs, however, the priorities Obama set in his Tuesday night speech were troubling: accountability, charter schools, data and national standards. His key White Advisor is Bob Gordon, a former advisor to Klein, and, the author of the New York City Weighted Student Funding plan. Gordon has written widely re teacher effectiveness and stands in direct opposition to teacher unions.
We propose federal support to help states measure the effectiveness of individual teachers – based on their impact on student achievement, subjective evaluations by principals and peers, and parent evaluations. States would be given considerable discretion to develop their own measures, as long as student achievement impact (using so-called “value-added” measures) are a key component. The federal government would pay bonuses to highly rated teachers willing to teach in high poverty schools.
Gordon and his co-authors go on to argue that teacher ” …effectiveness over the long-term can be predicted quite well by teachers’ student achievement results in their first few years on the job. The implication, they argued, was that the doors should be thrown open to lots more potential teacher candidates (through alternative certification and the like), and then the lowest-performing newbies (as measured by student achievement results) should be let go before they get tenure.”
The core of the Obama educational proposal would appear to be that other four-letter word, data.
The Data Quality Campaign (DQC) argues for systems to
On March 10th Arne Duncan will be the keynote at a DQC sponsored symposia.
Frederich Hess, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and no friend of teacher unions, warns that the headlong rush into “data-driven” education reform policy initiatives may be the “New Stupid.”
Using data alone may tell you how students are doing: does data “…enable an organization to diagnose problems or management improvement?”
Data-driven management should not simply identify effective teachers or struggling students but should also help render schools and school systems more supportive of effective teaching and learning. Doing so requires tracking an array of indicators, such as how long it takes books and materials to be shipped to classrooms, whether schools provide students with accurate and appropriate schedules in a timely fashion, how quickly assessment data are returned to schools, and how often the data are used. A system in which leaders possess that kind of data is far better equipped to boost school performance than one in which leaders have a palette of achievement data and little else.
We shouldn’t forget that the major banks and brokerages were also “data-driven,” they were wedded to a risk management system, called Value at Risk (VaR).
… one reason VaR became so popular is that it is the only commonly used risk measure that can be applied to just about any asset class. And it takes into account a head-spinning variety of variables, including diversification, leverage and volatility, that make up the kind of market risk that traders and firms face every day.
In spite of this highly sophisticated tool, the investment galaxy crashed, one day VaR was totally relied upon as a foolproof measure of daily risk management, the next the investment world was in disarray and free fall.
The current NYC Department of Education is a prime example of data as the “New Stupid.” ARIS, a student data warehouse costs $85 million, another system, being designed by Maximus, designed for storing Special Education data has price tag of $78 million. The Office of Accountability, that drives the Quality Review and School Progress Reports employs 100 employees, and the Department is expanding the Teacher Data Initiative … more than $200 millions, and what impact on the classroom?
Is there any evidence that the regular use of student data improves achievement?
Does the DOE track ARIS logons and compare to student progress by teacher?
On a local level we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars on top down data systems, without any evidence of their impact, and, I fear the dollars will spiral into the billions on the national level.
To quote Warren Buffet, in a letter to his shareholders,
Too often … American have been enamored of ‘a nerdy-sounding priesthood, using esoteric terms such as beta, gamma, sigma and the like.’… Some skepticism about these models is overdue,’ he added. ‘Our advise: Beware of geeks bearing formulas.’