Monday, July 26, 2010

Rotherham spins TFA stats

Andy Rotherham likes to portray himself as a voice of moderation and reason in the rough & tumble world of education debate.  But he is anything but.

Here he complains about a recent study by the Great Lakes Center which finds, among other things, that Teach for America (TFA) participants don't stay in the teaching profession for long.
In fact, in a study that delineated the leaving issue more effectively, a 2008 study by Harvard’s Project on the Next Generation of Teachers, found that 61 percent of Teach For America corps members stay in teaching beyond the two-year commitment. Teach For America surveys its alumni regularly and the most recent survey found that 65 percent of Teacher For America’s 20,000 alumni remain in education, with 32 percent continuing as teachers.
Let's take the second source of opposing evidence first.  TFA's own reported percentages of almuni who are still teaching is not exactly a reliable source.  But leaving sceptism aside, it's not clear what "32 percent continuing as teachers" really means.  The report suggests, and Rotherham interprets it to mean, that 32 percent of all alumni are teaching now, that is, currently.  If so, the following little note found at the very end of the report would be pertinent:
Percentages that reflect current data—as opposed to cumulative data—are drawn from our 2008 alumni survey, which received a 57 percent response rate [my emphasis] and went out to our alumni from corps years 1990-2006.
So, 32 percent of the 57 percent we know about, or 18 percent, are still teaching.  Maybe some of the other 43 percent are, too, but it's probably less than 32 percent since the non-respondents are probably less likely than respondents to still be teaching -- or to still be in education for that matter.  If a TFA alum is still teaching, it's a feel-good thing to respond to the survey.  But if she's in business consulting?  Well, maybe not so much.   In any event, a survey with a 57 percent response rate is highly unreliable, and Rotherham wouldn't treat its results as worth much if he were the stickler for hard facts that he presents himself to be.

As for the Harvard Study, his second source, this, too, had a response rate problem: with only 62 pecent of TFA alums responding. Which way does that bias the results? As with TFA's own survey, the most plausible story is that non-respondents tended to be earlier leavers, since they wouldn’t be quite so proud, so this would bias persistence rates upwards.

Besides failing to note the potential bias, Rotherham cleverly cited only the 61 percent of TFAers that the study found continued teaching more than two years.  He failed to mention subsequent attrition.  The study found that only 35 percent of the sample of TFAs continued after 4 years, and only 25 percent were teaching after 6.  Given the likely bias, that 25 percent is probably an upper bound estimate.

It seems that either Rotherham is not such an astute and critical consumer of research, or he is not such an honest broker, after all.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nowhere man

Eric Alterman has a long-winded piece in The Nation arguing that progressives should give Obama a break.  In a nutshell, he says that the right wing has become so loud, has so much money, and has so poisoned the discourse that it is virtually impossible to pass progressive legislation, whether Obama wants to or not.  Alterman does a suberb (and exhaustive) job detailing all the right wing evils.

The problem with this argument is that we already knew Republicans, business elites, and other assorted wackos had concocted a toxic political brew before Obama was elected.    Obama should have known it too, or at least we thought he did.  We elected him to change it!  Of course, he gave all those nice speeches about seeking compromise and shared interests among those with divergent views  -- but noboby with an shred of common sense believed that bullshit.  That was just happy talk to get himself elected ... like his predecessor's "Compassionate Conservatism."  We didn't expect him to govern like that.  We expected that once in office, he start banging Republican heads.  And we expected that he would start working on changing the political playing field immediately.

So what could he have done differently?  His first order of business should have been to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, strengthening union organizing.   This would have been an easy lift. Second, he should have converted his massive supporter email list into an active force within the Democratic party.  Neither of these would have had immediate political payoff, but they would have strengthened progressive forces in the longer run (like, now).  But our Community Organizer in Chief forgot to organize, or maybe he really wasn't so progressive after all.  But in any event, he took the first opportunity he had to squander his considerable political capital on a Big Policy (healthcare), because, it seems, he thought that would look better on his resume.

Of course, if he pushed for the Employee Free Choice Act, right wingers would have been calling him a socialist and fascist and all kinds of other bad things.  But wait, aren't they doing that now? 

Pollsters read Obama's latest slide in the polls as an effect of the bad economy.  But FDR governed through a much longer depression and maintained his popularity.  I think Obama's slide reflects the failure of his post-partisanship.  Of course, governing is the art of compromise, but you don't sit down to the bargaining table telling people that.  At any rate, that approach has not served Obama well.  The backroom deals with drug companies were a stain on healthcare reform.  He conceded on offshore drilling in order to get Republican support for a climate change bill, and we see where that went: Deepwater Horizon and no climate change bill.  And 2 days ago, we learn from Politco that he has been pushing an education agenda that is deeply unpopular among teachers in order to win US Chamber of Commerce support.  (This must be the worst strategy ever: alienate your key supporters to woo those who will never vote for you.) 

A few days ago, I heard Obama come on the radio and just flipped the channel.  Can't even be bothered to listen any more.

Monday, June 7, 2010

RttT Follies

The Race to the Trough continues to grow more entertaining with each passing day.

It simply passeth understanding how many newspaper editorialists use the looming budget crunch to argue for the necessity of doing whatever Arne Duncan wants in order to enhance their state's chances of getting Race to the Trough funding.  Cash from the Trough cannot be used to plug budget holes; it must be used to enact the state's promised "reform" package; and if states don't use it for that, Duncan has repeatedly said he will claw it back. 

It should be great drama to see whether he actually will or not.  One thinks he must be sweating bullets over the prospect of not getting Congressional authorization of an additional $23 bn to fend off teacher layoffs.  The irony is that this is his and Obama's teacher-trashing talk coming back to bite him.  After all, it's hard to credibly say we shouldn't be laying teachers off after stumping the country speechifying about how we need to fire bad teachers.  But that tends to happen when you say stupid things.  It's going to be terrible PR if Dunc tries to take RttT cash back from some state that uses it to avert teacher layoffs (and it's going to be hard for them not to, since that's what our most enlightened newspaper editors and probably broad swathes of the public think the money is for -- it is, after all, part of the ARRA economic stimulus plan). 

Then there are states like New York that legislated major -- and expensive (and stupid) -- re-vampings of their teacher evaluation schemes in order to earn their spot at the Trough.  What if after all this legislative heavy-lifting, they come up empty-handed, but with this expensive new law on their books to evaluate and fire teachers -- and they have to implement directly following budget-forced teacher layoffs?  Boy, is there going to be back-peddling or what?  Stuck with a law on the books that nobody now wants or can pay for, I predict that yet greater hilarity will ensue when the billionaire-backed DFER types start suing states to implement.  It will make such a lovely, ironic twist on the education finance adequacy lawsuits.

And Sarah Palin will no doubt occupy the White House by then.

So much to look forward to.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Obama has infuriated lots of progressives for a whole lot of reasons, and of course teachers' frustration with the clown he installed to run the Education Dept and his NCLB II policies grows daily.  So the question one asks oneself is whether one would actually sit out the next election or even pull the lever for some profoundly disturbed Republican who would actually be worse?

No, probably not.  Despite the disappointment, one has to admit that BO has done a decent thing or two,  which is probably more than one will be able to say for any conceivable Republican opponent.  So one will stifle one's sighs and desultorily slunk off to the polls and vote the Democratic party line.

But that scenario does not bode well for the Democrats.  BO and the Democrats rode into power  on a wave of popular enthusiasm.  As far as I can tell, that enthusiasm has pretty much fizzled out.  People gave lots of money and worked hard to put BO & co into office.  Most of that energy came from the progressive wing.  They won't get fooled again.  I know for sure I won't give them another dime, and I'll be talking trash about them at every turn.  That sentiment seems to be fairly widespread, and if it is, it's curtains for Barack -- even if he still gets our forlorn vote.

Ravitch rocks


Monday, May 24, 2010

Why I'm at peace with the latest crop of teacher evaluation schemes

Despite their appearance to the contrary, I don't think the deformers are quite so stupid to base everything on standardized test scores. Most people without Joel Klein's bloated ego would have hung their heads in shame long ago if they were met with the same hoots of derision (not to mention the devastating dissection from academics) that annually accompany the release of NYC’s school report cards. As is well-known to every neophyte psychometrician, year-to-year changes in test scores – and even on a decent test – are almost completely noise. The unsteady bobbing on NYCs school progress rankings are a crystal clear empirical demonstration of that to anyone without ideological pinhole vision. With teachers, the randomness in year-to-year changes would be even starker. And I think at some level in their reptilean brains, the deformers are aware of this, and they know that coming up with a teacher rating scheme demonstrably even stupider than Joel Klein’s school rating scheme would not bode well for them.

This puts the deformers in a bit of a pickle, because their goal is really to do the whole evaluation thingy as cheaply as possible. They really don’t care if it’s done well or accurately; they just want a new deform accomplishment they can brag about in their bios and in conversations with other deformy types. Unfortunately, however, because any scheme they come up with would be such a big deal, it might come under lots of scrutiny (at least, they hope it's a big deal and comes under scrutiny, as long as it's the friendly type of scrutiny they get from other deformy types), so it must have at least the ambience of reasonability and thoughtfulness.

Besides 100% on changes in test scores, the other option is administrative fiat, the principal-as-CEO shtick. But this, of course, has the potential to go very badly wrong as well, because – though many might be shocked to hear it – not every school principal is a paragon of wisdom and virtue. Empowering them too much could lead to serious blowback.

So deformers are backed into a corner of having to make an appearance of doing what they really don’t want to do, namely, conducting a real evaluation that takes multiple factors into account. And so you now hear about how many states are yammering about instituting annual multifactor evaluations to get their paws on RttT money. Which is where things start to get really humorous.

Evaluating teachers is now part of principals’ job description. But everybody knows that principals are overwhelmed with administrivia and discipline, and many are not really instructional leaders anyway. So they do their drive-bys and assigned their ratings, and the deformers hate it because the principals do not rate enough teachers badly – which would require documentation and paperwork that principals don’t have time for. So who is going to do all the newfangled annual multifactor evaluations, and where is the money to pay for them going to come from? How are states going to pay for these new armies of "experts" roaming around doing annual reviews? And for what? To ding a few hundred more teachers per year? My guess is that they'll end up paying a full year's admin salary for every incompetent they flush out of the woodwork. We'll see how long that lasts.

Three years, max, before the next governor or state ed head comes in a pulls the plug on such "an outrageous and ill-conceived waste of taxpayers' dollars." 

Friday, May 14, 2010

Arne "BubbleBoy" Duncan

NY Times. May 3, 2010:
Mr. Duncan says he encounters no public opposition.
“Zero,” he said. “And as hard as we’re pushing everybody else to change, we’re pushing the department to change even more. There’s just an outpouring of support for the common-sense changes and the unprecedented investments we’re making.”
Politico.  May 14, 2010.  Headline: President Obama's school plan riles lawmakers