Request For Proposals: Are the Core Principles of the Department of Education Research-Based? Are These Policies Antithetical to Improving Pupil Achievement? If Instruction is Data-Driven, Shouldn’t Policy Follow Data?

 

Medicine has moved from thick paper files for each patient to computer screens with color coded test results. Prescription pads are now e-Rx, electronic prescriptions waiting for you at the pharmacy.
 
In spite of the most sophisticated software, newer and more detailed tests, studies evaluating the effectiveness of one drug over another, patients must accept the standard advise, “lose weight and get more exercise.”
 
Drugs, tests, studies, can inform the treatment of a patient, however, the patient can chose to accept the wisdom of the physician, or not.
 
Obama/Duncan see data as the sine qua non, the magic bullet that will inform us all,
 
Performance targets, based on whole-school and subgroup achievement and growth, and graduation rates, will guide improvement… States, districts and schools will look not just at absolute performance and proficiency, but at individual student growth and school progress over time.
 
David Brooks, in a NY Times op ed buys into the data/teacher performance evaluation dance,
 
 the president has better aligned the education system with American values. In every other job in this country, people are measured by whether they produce results. For decades, that didn’t apply to schools, where people were rewarded even as student achievement stagnated. This administration has sided with reformers who want to change that — by measuring teacher performance.
  
The new data-driven world of schools can tell us all there is to know about pupil achievement, it cannot make the student come to school every day, do homework and study; just as the patient who overeats and refuses to exercise diminishes the effectiveness of drugs.
 
Data alone will not produce wonderful teachers and effective schools. We have to look beyond data into the underlying impact of these policies, the intersection of data and methods of instruction and actual teachers.
 
Unfortunately there are serious areas of research that can guide policy and have are underexplored,
 
clicks per teacher/school:
 
Are teachers/schools that are more frequent users of data, as measured by logons to ARIS (the DOE data warehouse) more effective teachers/schools?
 
I ask teachers, how often do you use ARIS? the answer: once a week, to check student attendance! In my experience aside from logons in September, teachers find ARIS data: ELA/Math scores, periodic and predictive assessments reinforce what teachers already know … If data use and teacher effectiveness do not correlate, are we wasting billions? Shouldn’t we find out?
 
U-ratings:
 
The number of Unsatisfactory (“U”) ratings have grown exponentially over the last few years. The message from Tweed, if in doubt, give a U-rating. From superintendents, to DOE lawyers, to the Leadership Academy principals are urged to use the “stick,” make an example, punish undesirable behavior.
 
Who are receiving U-ratings? Are more senior teachers receiving more U-ratings? And, most importantly, are U-rated teachers “bad” teachers as measured by pupil performance? How do U-ratings correlate with Teacher Data Reports?
 
The U-rating form asks the principal to rate the teacher in 21 different areas, are teachers receiving U-ratings due to ineffective teaching, or, disobeying the principal?
 
If it turns out that principal judgement is a poor indicator of teacher effectiveness isn’t this entire management system deeply flawed?
 
Open Market Transfers:
 
Each years thousands of teachers move from school to school, many times more than moved under the previous seniority transfer system. Who is transferring and where are they going?  Are “higher” achieving teachers moving to “higher” achieving schools? Is the Open Market System antithetical to the goal of having the most effective teachers working in the neediest schools?
 
A 2007 study indicated that nationally,
 
Teachers are more likely to stay in schools in which pupil achievement is higher and teachers – especially white teachers – are more likely to stay in schools with higher proportions of white students.
 
In NYC, data reflecting 2000-2005,
 
For teachers leaving low-performing schools, the more effective transfers tend to move to higher performing schools, while less effective transfers stay in lower performing schools, likely exacerbating the difference across students in the opportunities they will have to learn and meet their own goals as well as those set by the city and the state.
  
If this trend is continuing, or accelerating, isn’t one of the core values of the current DOE management system exacerbating the issue of poorly achieving schools by facilitating more effective teachers leaving lower achieving schools?
 
Perhaps the Research Alliance for NYC Schools or the Independent Budget Office, or some other well regarded research organization can explore these issues.
 
The light at the end of the Tweed policy tunnel might be an onrushing locomotive?

 

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