Live By Testing, Die By Testing

by Robert Pondiscio
April 9th, 2008

Good common sense from Eduwonkette on the the Bloomberg tenure track defeat. Reacting to some of the extreme blogging about it, she sounds a note of reason.

“If NYC wants to get serious about value-added, tests need to be given in September and June, and these tests need to be designed to measure growth, which NY state’s tests are not,” says EW.

I’ve resisted weighing in on this because as a former NYC teacher, I’m deeply ambivalent about it. Which is worse, no or phony accountability, or the nuance-averse, blunt instrument accountability of standardized tests? Frankly, neither one is remotely acceptable. I’m a strong supporter of muscular teacher accountability, but over my dead body would I accept being evaluated by a reading test administered short of the halfway mark in the school year. Neither would I want my efficacy gauged six months after my kids left my classroom.

A case could be made that under Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein, New York City has lived and died by standardized test scores. I can’t help but feel that this defeat is at some level the inevitable price they had to pay for their singular focus on testing.

Bloomberg Loses NY Tenure Fight

by Robert Pondiscio
April 9th, 2008

New York State’s legislature has dealt a blow to NYC mayor Mike Bloomberg and school chancellor Joel Klein, prohibiting school districts from denying or granting teacher tenure based on criteria such as student test scores.

New York Daily NewsKlein had pushed hard on the issue up to the last minute, arguing in yesterday’s Daily News that “a teacher’s impact on her students’ standardized test scores shouldn’t be the only factor used in deciding whether or not to give tenure, and it should never be used as part of a hard formula. Nor should test scores be used without controlling forthings like where students start academically, class size and demographics. But if these general guidelines are followed, there is nothing wrong – and everything right – with using the achievement gains of students, as measured through standardized tests, to assess the quality of a teacher’s work.”

Albany made it a moot point.

“I am dismayed that the State Legislature would even consider tying the hands of principals and school districts as they decide who gets lifetime job security. This is unconscionable. Lawmakers should do all they can to ensure every student has a good teacher,” Klein vented to the New York Times. “Our children deserve better.”

How Women’s Lib Killed Public Schools

by Robert Pondiscio
April 9th, 2008

Women’s lib killed the public school system.

This eyebrow raising opinion comes courtesy of interesting blog called Cosmic Variance, run by a group of physicists and astrophysicists who hold forth about whatever they damn well please, thank you. They’ve been picking apart Matt Miller’s Atlantic piece about the crazy quilt of schools wrought by local control of education. (OK, Miller’s piece ran in January, but they’re physicists. Time is relative.)

Julianne Dalcanton, an Associate Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington according to her bio on the site, writes about a conversation she had with a donor when she was a postdoc at the Carnegie Observatories. This elderly gent announced to her that “Women’s lib killed the public school system.”
“When I picked my jaw off the floor, I encouraged him to expand on his thesis, and found that he wasn’t completely nuts,” Dalcanton writes. “Back in the day, women of brains, talent, and ambition had two acceptable career options: nursing, and teaching. If I had been born 50 years earlier, I would not have a PhD in astrophysics. Instead, I would probably have grown up to be a school teacher, just like my grandmother. It didn’t have to pay that well, since really, what would have my other options have been? Not law school, not physics, not mechanical engineering, not finance. Today, the brightest women have far more options beyond teaching, and while some still teach, the vast majority of us work in other fields. The salaries in teaching remain low, as for many fields that have been dominated by women, guaranteeing that teaching is not as competitive with other career options available.”

Most of the commenters on Cosmic Variance, every bit as erudite as the authors, aren’t having a lot of this and let Professor Dalcanton know it. Fun reading on education in a fresh and unexpected corner of the blogosphere.

Get Me Rewrite!

by Robert Pondiscio
April 9th, 2008

Milwaukee Journal-SentinelColumnist Eugene Kane is upset by the performance of Wisconsin’s black 8th graders on the recently released NAEP Writing results. He’s just as upset with how his paper, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel played the story.

“State black 8th-graders rank worst in nation in writing,” the headline read.

“There’s always plenty of blame to go around when things get this dismal,” Kane writes. “I’m talking teachers, principals, politicians, business leaders, and of course, the parents of all those low-achieving students. But don’t worry about blaming the kids. They already got theirs in that screaming headline.”

“Any story about failing black kids always includes the usual comments from adults embarrassed by the situation who insist things can get better. The problem is too many people are already way too familiar with the below-par performance of black students in Milwaukee to believe anybody cares,” he concludes.

Kane’s kicker delivers a kick in the teeth:

“To be fair, the headline should probably be more inclusive next time, naming Wisconsin as the home of “the worst teachers and parents of black eighth-grade students in the nation. Doesn’t feel too good, does it?”