Friday Assorted Links

1. The British Open has always been my favorite golf tournament because of the history, creative shot making, hellish bunkers, cold wind and rain, and the gorse of course. I’m going to miss it.

Englishman Nick Faldo, a three-time Open champion, said it is no longer correct to call it the Open Championship. “Now it’s ‘The Open. In another five years, it will just be called ‘The.’ ”

2. Tyler Cowen on his writing process.

“I try to write a few pages every day. I don’t obsess over the counting, I just do as much as I can and stop before I feel I am done, so I am eager to start up again the next day, or after lunch. That to me is very important, not to write too much in a single day, but to get something written every single day.”

3. Principals are loath to give teachers bad ratings.

“When principals are asked their opinions of teachers in confidence and with no stakes attached, they’re much more likely to give harsh ratings, researchers found.”

4. So this is why eldest daughter chooses to live in Chicago.

“Another interesting trend is that all cities in Southwest, from Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona, are taco cities. Burrito cities are mostly from the Midwest and West. California has cities in both categories. It appears that SoCal prefers tacos (LA and San Diego), while NorCal prefers burritos (San Francisco, Sacramento, San Jose).”

Clearly, burritos > tacos, so I need to visit Indianapolis and San Fransisco.

5A. Trumpcare collapsed because the Republican Party cannot govern.

“In truth, it was never possible to reconcile public standards for a humane health-care system with conservative ideology. In a pure market system, access to medical care will be unaffordable for a huge share of the public. Giving them access to quality care means mobilizing government power to redistribute resources, either through direct tax and transfers or through regulations that raise costs for the healthy and lower them for the sick. Obamacare uses both methods, and both are utterly repugnant and unacceptable to movement conservatives. That commitment to abstract anti-government dogma, without any concern for the practical impact, is the quality that makes the Republican Party unlike right-of-center governing parties in any other democracy. In no other country would a conservative party develop a plan for health care that every major industry stakeholder calls completely unworkable.”

5B. The Republican healthcare meltdown.

“The larger lesson of this sorry episode is that nobody—not McConnell, or Trump, or House Speaker Paul Ryan—can resolve the contradictions of today’s Republican Party. Once the political arm of the Rotary Club and the affluent suburbs, the Party is increasingly one of middle-class and working-class voters, many of whom are big beneficiaries of federal programs, such as Medicaid and the Obamacare subsidies for the purchase of private insurance. But the G.O.P. remains beholden to its richest, most conservative donors, many of whom espouse a doctrine of rolling back the government and cutting taxes, especially taxes applicable to themselves and other very rich people. It was the donors and ideologues, with Ryan as their front man, who led the assault on the Affordable Care Act.”

5C. Trump’s clueless abdication of presidential responsibility.

“Predictable and despicable” are more apt than “clueless”.

“The first duty of any President is to protect the welfare of the citizenry. In blithely threatening to allow the collapse of the Obamacare exchanges, through which some twelve million Americans have purchased health insurance, Trump was ignoring this duty. Arguably, he was violating his oath of office, in which he promised to ‘faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States.'”

The Difficulty of Evaluating Teachers

Colorado case study.

“It’s tough to measure the success of the law objectively, though no one seems to be claiming it had the dramatic effect that many hoped for back in 2010. Naturally, different stakeholders have different prescriptions for how to improve it. Dallman wants to reduce the role of testing; Stein says the rubric is too cumbersome; Boasberg argues there needs to be more room for subjectivity and professional judgment.”

Meanwhile, more Colorado high school graduates need remedial classes.

“The number of Colorado high school graduates who needed to take remedial classes in college . . .  increased slightly in 2015-16 over the previous year from 35.4 percent to 36.1 percent.”

 

Sentence to Ponder

Governor Cuomo version:

In the light of such widespread skepticism about over-reliance on test results—and such widespread consensus about the detrimental effects engendered by teaching to the test—the governor’s doubling down on state test results to assess teachers’ effectiveness seems a questionable calculation.

What Amanda Ripley and Her Amazon Reviewers Get Wrong

Ripley has written a book titled “The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way“. Thanks to my brother (shout out to Ohio, not California), I recently read an article by Ripley based upon her book. Given my frustration level while reading the article, I’m not sure I could get through her book. Her Amazon reviewers loved it though.

What does Ripley and what do her reviewers get wrong? That you can improve schooling in the U.S. by arguing that Finnish teachers are far, far superior to American ones. I assume Ripley wants to help improve American schooling. She’s right that teacher education programs in the United States are not nearly as selective nor rigorous as Finnish ones. But in the excerpt at least, she doesn’t even bother exploring the reasons why, let alone propose solutions to the problem.

Dear Ms. Ripley, there are lots of reasons why teacher education programs in the U.S. aren’t as selective and rigorous as in Education’s Holy Land ( let’s create some ed jargon baby, EHL). Maybe the most vexing one is best illustrated through a question.

Whose recent performance is most impressive, Peyton Manning’s or Dexter Filkins’? To which most people in the U.S. would ask, who does Filkins play for and why haven’t I heard of him? Filkins is an outstanding writer, who, when he’s not writing books, plays for The New Yorker. And he just published an amazing story on Qassem Suleimani. Who does Qassem Suleimani play for and why haven’t I heard of him? Two teams really. Iran and Shiites worldwide.

You haven’t heard of him because American culture is anti-intellectual. How can anyone expect teaching to be a deeply respected profession when we reserve our highest pedestals for athletes, actors, and other entertainers?

Ripley also illustrates how dangerous a little knowledge can be. She’s critical of how short teacher candidates’ apprenticeships are in the U.S. I am too. Just the other day I was cringing in my office as colleagues next door weighed the merits of eight-week long professional apprenticeships.

But the problem is even worse than Ripley lets on. Not only are they far too short, increasingly candidates spend a lot of their time co-teaching because of growing standardized test score anxiety. Given the momentum for tying teachers’ evaluations and compensation to students’ test scores, an increasing percentage of principals and teachers are reluctant to “hand over” their classrooms to teacher credential candidates. Ripley doesn’t bother peeling that onion at all. Literally and figuratively shortchanging future teachers’ professional preparation is just one of other unintended negative consequences of standardized test score mania. We’ve lost our minds.

Absent from Ripley’s article, we obviously have to improve teacher compensation to have any hope of raising the profession’s profile and making teacher preparation programs markedly more selective. Related to that, we have to improve the work conditions—meaning fewer or smaller classes; more time to develop curriculum, prepare for classes, and assess student work; and fewer authors, elected officials, and businesspeople ripping teachers for not being more Finnish.

Postscript—peel more of the onion by reading Anu Partanen’s December 2011 essay in the Atlantic, “What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success“.

If Only Schools Were More Like Businesses

Every once in awhile, it’s important to inflict pain on yourself. Builds character. Run a marathon. Fast for a day. Do your taxes. Watch a Wayne LaPierre press conference. Or most painful of all, listen to politicians and business people talk about what we need to do to reform education in the United States.

Their message—breakdown the government monopoly on schools by infusing them with business principles. Most importantly, competition. Between teachers, schools, and districts. Highest standardized test scores win. Their unquestioned premise is that the business community has its shit together. The pro-business propaganda is so steady we start to believe it.

Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

Lots of schools would close every year. But I guess we could just tell the affected families that “creative destruction” is just a natural, even healthy part of the business cycle. They’ll understand. Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

And teachers would start relating to students the way my local bankers and insurance agents routinely do, from behind websites, and sometimes via the telephone. Last week I received birthday cards from my bank and my insurance agent. I recycled both cards without opening them. No one at my bank or insurance agency would know me if I walked into their offices. We have no personal relationship, only an economic one. The best teachers know their students individually, and something about their families, their interests, their hopes for the future. But maybe all that effort to connect with students is misguided. Maybe teachers should be more like my banker and insurance agent. Just design some websites where students can get assignments and submit their work and mail out computer generated birthday cards once a year. Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

And every school would ace every state assessment whatever the form. Because that’s the way my car dealership works. When I take my car in, I’m told they have to get perfect scores on the evaluation they mail to me afterwards. Heaven for bid if they get any “9’s”. It seems like gaming the system to me, but I guess it’s just an advanced form of assessment thinking, everyone getting perfect scores all the time. Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

Most importantly, the best thing about business people is they’re always accountable for their performance. Regular performance reviews ensure it. That’s what teachers need most of all, more business-like accountability! Or maybe not. Here’s Nassim Taleb blowing that fallacy apart:

Those who have the upside are not necessarily those who incur the downside. For example, bankers and corporate managers get bonuses for “performance,” but not reverse bonuses for negative performance, and they have an incentive to bury risks in the tails of the distribution – in other words, to delay blowups.

Read the history of Wall Street from 2007-2008 for sordid example after example. Five years later, in the U.S., there’s a sure-fire way for business people to avoid accountability. Climb the corporate ladder as high as possible. Yeah, if only schools were more like businesses.

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Why Do Teachers Tolerate a Professional Double-Standard?

In a recent article titled, “What if the Doctor is Wrong?” The Wall Street Journal asserts what you and I already know, that “primary care doctors can misdiagnose common symptoms.In a study 202 patients most commonly complained about abdominal pain, fever, fatigue, shortness of breath and rash. Incorrect diagnoses included: benign viral infection 17%; musculoskeletal pain 10%; asthma/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 6%; benign skin lesion 4%; and pneumonia 4%. Final correct diagnoses for patients misdiagnosed initially included: cancer 16%; pulmonary embolism 6%; coronary artery disease 5%; aneurysm 8%; appendicitis 6%.

Every profession consists of a mix of hardworking, conscientious, especially caring and skilled people and those who are less so.

I don’t point this out to bash doctors or excuse any teacher that is unprepared, uncaring, and unmotivated. I point it out to ask why politicians, business leaders, state legislators, and other policy makers are so determined to identify and then fire the worst teachers, but no similar efforts are made to rid medicine, dentistry, the law, or other professions of perennial underachievers? Think doctors would find it motivating if we reported their “initial correct diagnosis” percentages in local newspapers and then used those percentages to divide them into different categories of relative effectiveness?

Do we single out teachers for public scoring and scorn because they make a fraction of most doctors, dentists, and lawyers and in our society money, status, and power are intimately interconnected? Do policy makers feel like that they can push them around because of their modest compensation?

 

The Teacher Evaluation Maelstrom

The power brokers? Bill and Melinda. Who knew that when we were buying Microsoft Office (for the Mac of course) every three to five years we were ceding mad educational influence to the Lake Washington power couple. Given their Foundation’s less than impressive record on education reform, their reasonable, respectful, and constructive thoughts on how to improve teacher evaluation surprised me.

This article, “Nearly Half of All States Link Teacher Evaluations to Tests” provides a national snapshot. A few excerpts:

At least 23 states and the District of Columbia now evaluate public-school teachers in part by student standardized tests, while 14 allow districts to use this data to dismiss ineffective teachers, according to the report from the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group.

Last year, President Obama’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top initiative awarded grants to states that adopted policy changes such as linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. This year, Republican governors in Idaho, Indiana, Nevada and Michigan ushered in overhauls to teacher rating, compensation, bargaining rights and tenure.

Critics, including some teachers unions, say many of the changes are aimed at firing teachers and usurping union power. They say the new evaluations use flawed standardized tests that measure a narrow window of student learning.

In Florida, tenure was eliminated. In Colorado, teachers now must get three positive ratings to earn tenure and can lose it after two bad ones. Several states, including Indiana and Michigan, did away with “last in, first out” union rules that resulted in districts laying off effective new teachers instead of ineffective tenured ones. Indiana and Tennessee passed merit-pay laws that base teacher pay primarily on classroom performance.

California illustrates how important elections are. The new governor and Superintendent of Public Instruction have chosen not to “Race to the Top”, as a result teacher evaluation looks quite different there.

Interesting that no one cared about teacher evaluation policy until a few years ago when we pulled up in the global economic race with a hamstring tear. Nevermind that corporate boards were failing to meet their fiduciary responsibilities; we were fighting two wars; and our government was bailing out major banks and car companies left and right, and looking the other way while investment bankers bought and sold home mortgages that people never should have taken out. Make no mistake about it, the only reason politicians and business leaders care about teacher evaluation is mounting economic anxiety. That utilitarianism breds cynicism among teachers who resent being scapegoated for our country’s economic ills.

Obama, Arne, and a bunch of Republican and Democratic governors believe that improved teacher accountability will solve nearly all of our economic problems. Bad teachers will vanish. Students will learn the four holy subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math. The ice caps will stop melting and we’ll start kicking ass again in the global economy.

At this stage I’m giving the Gates a “B-” for their teaching eval work because, like everyone else, they’re slighting the more important half of the teaching improvement equation—how to attract more socially conscious, culturally diverse, hardworking academic all-stars to one of the more challenging and rewarding forms of community service there is.