Wednesday, May 24, 2017

That Explains It

Well we can thank Tennessee as being ground zero for Education reform.  I knew most of it and have seen first hand what it has done and it is not a good thing.  I said early on that Nashville you broke me and I have never hated Children, Teachers and Schools as much or ever (which given what I have seen over 20 years says something)  since I set foot in them in August 2016.

Today was the last day of the school year for me.  As I said in my last post yesterday what I witnessed and experienced was not just bizarre it was distressing and tragic for everyone involved.   I was asked why I was so off put by the Transgendered Teacher and it was not that he was now a woman but it was his demeanor, his manner and his sheer neediness that made me wonder if this was a desperate cry for attention, a need to be a martyr to live and work in a State that hates his kind or he was that stupid.  Seriously I went with stupid.  As anyone with a degree or credentials in Special Education, a highly in demand credential, could write their ticket and go to a more liberal playground in which to live and work so it was hard for me to respect or understand any of it.  Then after listening to the other condescending female Teacher (who corrected my pronoun when I kept referring to the other Teacher with the male one - sorry but that is my own passive aggressiveness that I need to check)  explain/defend/justify her six figure debt while simultaneously demanding  respect from a a bunch of 6th graders who could not care less again made me go: Really wtf?  If one cannot see the disconnect there then one only needs to look at the current Presidential administration.  It is as if a brain surgeon thinks that shit I can operate on a brain I sure as hell can run a huge department of public housing, what's the diff?  Oh wait....

**for the record the TN Legislature just passed the new salary increases for the state and they are as follows: The new minimum base pay for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $33,74, so the Doctor would make that (dependent upon her years of experience) 3,500 with 3-5 years experience 11K plus change if she was over 11 years.  So in Nashville that would be about 55K tops.  Yes indeed.  I would demand respect from a two year old to validate that bullshit 

Then today I showed up to a classroom that to say disaster zone would be insufficient. Then I heard the announcement that the entire school was going on a field trip and that kids not going were to report to the following rooms.  The Teacher I was subbing for made me presume that I was either Chaperoning or I was covering for the leftovers who did not go (which I had done both in Seattle and either gig is good).   As I sat waiting, the Teacher arrived and looked appalled that I was there. It as I have come to expect  and so it went downhill from there.   After about an hour she asked for the sole shredder in the school and I offered to get it from the library.  Yes a middle school with one shredder, right there red flag.  Then she handed me papers and told me to rip staplers out with my bare hands and then shred anything unless it was signed.  I found a stapler remover and went that direction and kept shredding until it was overheated and blocked with paper.  So after an hour of pulling paper threads from the jammed machine, using a paper clip and scissors,  I offered to go buy her her own shredder to replace this one as it was not working.  More calls and was told not to do that just let it cool.  I had now been there 3 hours and thought I would never make it to 3:15.  So again I offered to work a half day and again buy a second one as a gift. No  she was insistent that I just wait it out.  Yes I will just sit there then start this over again for another 3 hours.  The insanity of this situation has at one point click in.  But no, she then called the Principal and informed him that I told her I was "wasting my time" and  asked if I could work a half day with her or was there other work to be done.  He said fine but half day was 11:30.  She seemed utterly amazed that I an educated professional would not want to sit for hours shredding paper sheet after paper sheet.  All while her teen aged daughter sat at an adjacent desk doing nothing.

I had a moment where I thought the irony of this me on my hands and knees cleaning this old shredder and the woman, her daughter both black getting off on this and of course portraying me as ungrateful and disrespectful (as that is what the connotation of wasting time meant to me) to her while this woman who had been a room with me for three hours never spoke to me - ate in front of me and utterly ignored me for over a hour until the shredder idea came up.  When I finally finished shredding what I could until the machine again over heated I saw it was 11:30 and could not run for the door fast enough.   As I left I said, "Oh by the way you never asked me my name, it is XYZ" and hope she realized now that I had tried to be polite and her constant ranting/apologizing/excusing as if I did something wrong by taking the job was in fact just what it was - a lack of communication, a mistake.  But I might be projecting as there is one thing I have found here, regardless of color, the Staff of these schools are horrific and I have nothing good to say; however, that is not going to stop me from trash talking I can assure you.  It again explains the children and their behavior.

***ETA***   Today I took a gig at a pretentious school that on my few occasions there I found the Principal ludicrous and his gargoyle, whoops I mean Secretary, well just that.  So it was for a half day to make up for the half day lost yesterday and thought another SPED room and let's see what's what.

Well one nice girl introduced herself and asked me my name. An improvement and then as always it went down from there, a low bar frankly.  The rooms were adjacent and they put me in the second room where there was me and one of the SPED assistants 5 cats she was giving away.  My exposure to any children were those going in and out to pet the kitties.   Again no one spoke to me despite the presence of an elderly black woman and another young woman who talked literally over me as I placed myself front and center in a table in the middle of the room and by the adjoining door.  One darling kid did say good morning to me and hugged me and that was the extent of my human contact.  I managed 2.5 hours as an hour or so to go I announced to no one I was going to the bathroom and then walked out the door.  I forgot to mention that I meant the one in my home.  I want to point out that these are the EDUCATED members of Tennessee society, all 33% of them, and they are in charge of EDUCATION here.  Interesting how that works out and again might explain the dismal numbers in pursuit of learning.  

And then I read this essay and went "Well that explains it."  The moron who came up with this bullshit is part of the problem not the solution. Hey dipshit the poverty and level of ignorance here is ingrained in the culture, in the economy and the class system that pervades all aspects of living here.  Again Southerner's have no clue other than worth via numbers as that is there excuse/explanation/justification for their ignorance and in turn their racism/sexism/homophobia/pick a 'ism.  And there are no salary levels that reward "better" Teachers here, the State with the lowest salary levels in the country and a shortage of Teachers so severe that the State is advertising for them across the country.  But hey again, lies here are a dish best served with hot chicken and sweet tea.  And it explains why I am treated like a shit bag in the schools - you have to be stupid to work in them.  It is the same label I gave my M'lady teacher from the day before.  If she (note correct pronoun) really was that good as she kept telling me, why the fuck was she here?

When we all are numbers then we are not people and then when we are not people we don't have to treat people as we wish to be treated we treat them as they treat me here in Nashville - like shit.

This is where I sat on the floor shredding

The Little-Known Statistician Who Taught Us to Measure Teachers

Kevin Carey
MAY 19, 2017

Students enroll in a teacher’s classroom. Nine months later, they take a test. How much did the first event, the teaching, cause the second event, the test scores? Students have vastly different abilities and backgrounds. A great teacher could see lower test scores after being assigned unusually hard-to-teach kids. A mediocre teacher could see higher scores after getting a class of geniuses.

Thirty-five years ago, a statistician, William S. Sanders, offered an answer to that puzzle. It relied, unexpectedly, on statistical methods that were developed to understand animal breeding patterns.

Mr. Sanders died in March in his home state, Tennessee, at age 74, with his name little known outside education circles. But the teacher-assessment method he developed attracted a host of reformers and powerful lawmakers, leading to some of the most bitter conflicts in American education.

“In 1945, the United States government set off an atomic bomb.”

That’s how Mr. Sanders began telling me the story of his life, when we met several years ago.

He was raised on a small dairy farm and earned a doctorate in statistics and quantitative genetics from the University of Tennessee. At the time, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, near Knoxville, was studying the effects of radiation on living things.

Nuclear weapons tests had released clouds of radiation that had drifted with the weather. Sometime later, farm animals downwind began to die. Did the first event, a mushroom cloud, cause the second event, dead sheep? Or did one merely follow the other coincidentally? Solving this problem required expertise in both statistical probability and livestock biology. Oak Ridge hired Bill Sanders.

Then, in 1982, Mr. Sanders chanced upon a newspaper article about the latest controversy in K-12 education.

Tennessee’s governor, Lamar Alexander, who is now chairman of the Senate education committee, wanted to give more status and money to the best schoolteachers. That raised a thorny question: What, exactly, does “best” mean?

Mr. Sanders and a colleague sent Mr. Alexander a letter offering to help. Mr. Alexander ultimately chose not to use Mr. Sanders’s method, but eight years later, Mr. Sanders was summoned by Gov. Ned McWherter to make his case.

Tennessee, an early adopter in standardized testing, administered annual exams in five subjects. Those scores, Mr. Sanders said, could gauge the quality of the students’ teachers. Yet, he cautioned, a simple comparison of a student’s test scores with her scores a year before wasn’t good enough.

Imagine two students. Both start the year at the same level in math, and both improve by 15 percent. But in previous years, the first student had been improving slowly, by 5 percent annually. For him, 15 percent is a big gain. But the second student had been improving by 30 percent per year. For her, 15 percent is a troublesome slowing down.

To fairly evaluate teachers, Mr. Sanders argued, the state needed to calculate an expected growth trajectory for each student in each subject, based on past test performance, then compare those predictions with their actual growth. Outside-of-school factors like talent, wealth and home life were thus baked into each student’s expected growth. Teachers whose students’ scores consistently grew more than expected were achieving unusually high levels of “value-added.” Those, Mr. Sanders declared, were the best teachers.

Crunching the numbers for millions of scores would require high-powered computers and a small team of statisticians. To his surprise, Mr. Sanders got all that from the state. From that point, Bill Sanders’s professional life was defined by teachers, tests and the increasingly fraught politics between them.

When he began calculating value-added scores en masse, he immediately saw that the ratings fell into a “normal” distribution, or bell curve. A small number of teachers had unusually bad results, a small number had unusually good results, and most were somewhere in the middle.

Then, as now, the vast majority of teacher salary schedules used only two factors: years of service and the number of advanced degrees. Personnel evaluation systems were essentially nonexistent, with nearly all teachers being rated “satisfactory” after a perfunctory review.

The value-added bell curve told a different story. First, it was wide. The effective teachers on one side were achieving much better results than the ineffective teachers on the other. Second, it didn’t support the tenure and credentials system. Other researchers began using methods similar to Mr. Sanders’s to compare different kinds of teachers.

Schools were collectively spending billions to give teachers with master’s degrees extra pay. Yet their value-added bell curve looked little different from the curve for teachers without those degrees. Nor did effectiveness grow in lock step with years of service.

People had always known there were great and not-so-great teachers. But they had never been able to quantify the difference. The Sanders idea opened up new vistas of public policy — and created some of the most hard-fought political battles of the age.

Education reformers looked at the left-hand side of the bell curve, where the ineffective teachers were, and thought, “What if we could take them out of the system?” They pushed to change tenure systems that made teachers hard to fire.

Reformers also looked at the right-hand side of the bell curve, where the effective teachers were, and thought, “What if we could have a lot more of those?” They pushed for merit pay systems that would give raises to teachers with good value-added scores, to aid retention and recruitment.

The release of value-added data, as well as policies based upon them, were fiercely opposed by teachers’ unions. When Michelle Rhee, then superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C., decided to base teacher tenure and salaries in part on value-added scores, the American Federation of Teachers spent over a million dollars to unseat Ms. Rhee’s boss, Mayor Adrian Fenty. In New York, the United Federation of Teachers used the scores as a rallying cry against Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Mr. Sanders generally stayed out of these arguments — he opposed releasing individual ratings publicly — but he was still scorned as a mysterious guru without proper education credentials. It didn’t help that he made no apologies for the fact that his methods were too complex for most of the teachers whose jobs depended on them to understand.

Controversies also erupted on the national stage. Teacher-centered reforms had tended to revolve around class-size ratios, broad-based salary increases and other policies that, implicitly, saw teachers as interchangeable.

Value-added results suggested that individual teachers could be the primary driver of student improvement — but only the good teachers. The research convinced Bill Gates to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on measuring and improving teacher effectiveness. After Barack Obama’s election in 2008, key advisers used the research to make teacher evaluation a cornerstone of the “Race to the Top” program that gave states economic stimulus funds in exchange for adopting a menu of education reforms.

The policy quickly became a flash point. The Obama administration wanted a substantial portion of each teacher’s rating to be based on “student growth,” which everyone understood to mean some form of value-added results. The unions wanted test scores to matter much less. The Common Core standardized tests, already disliked by opponents of federal power on the right, also gained critics on the left, who objected to their use in evaluating teachers.

The controversies put value-added methods under intense scrutiny. Critics rightly pointed out that the ratings were only as good as the tests themselves, which varied widely in quality. Many educators teach in subjects or grades in which annual testing isn’t required, making value-added scores impossible.

That’s why evaluation systems in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere ultimately leaned more heavily on structured, in-person observations of teacher practice. Unlike value-added ratings, observations can provide diagnosis along with evaluation, showing teachers not just how they’re doing, but how to improve.

The American Statistical Association issued a statement urging caution in using value-added measures for “high-stakes” decisions, in part because scores for individual teachers can change significantly from year to year. But this variance exists in part because teachers are sometimes much more effective with one group of students in one year than another in the next.

Up until his death, Mr. Sanders never tired of pointing out that none of the critiques refuted the central insight of the value-added bell curve: Some teachers are much better than others, for reasons that conventional measures can’t explain. His system is still used in Tennessee today. In the last dozen years or so, the state’s scores on federal N.A.E.P. exams have improved faster than those of the average state.  (Note: This is not quite true and the problems with testing is well documented over the last three years here with the testing protocols but the writer neglects to mention that and that district over district is finally starting to rebel. And that in reality our numbers are well not truthful, a State of Tennessee and mindset here in many ways.)

His data were, he believed, inherently pro-teacher. Kati Haycock, founder of the education civil rights group the Education Trust, says that Mr. Sanders’s work revealed that teacher effectiveness “makes a huge difference in the trajectories and life chances of different kids.”

While the use of value-added ratings to hire, fire and pay teachers may have been limited by political pressure, the importance of the value-added bell curve itself continues to grow — less like a sudden explosion than a chime whose resonance gains in power over time. The questions that occupy lawmakers and administrators today are not whether to identify the most and least effective teachers, but how.  **Again a note this is not true but it is good to know lying is just not a Southern thing

Because a Tennessee farmer turned statistician decided to write a letter to his governor, nobody will ever see the American teaching profession the same way again.

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