Jay Mathews’ Fawning Column

I had no idea that was coming; in fact, it looked as though the lame-stream media had decided to ignore the entire matter.

Mathews makes entirely too much of my researching abilities. It was Ed Harris (thanks!) who alerted me to that report. My understanding of statistics is of an entirely elementary nature.

Unlike some folks (eg MR or leaders of certain religious groups) I make no claim to making miracles happen, to omniscience, or to inerrancy. I like to think I had some successes in the classroom, and I know for sure that I had some failures. Some kids and their parents liked my approach, and some hated my guts. I tried (with some success, occasionally) to show how math was useful in real life. Like most teachers, I worked hard, but always found that the amount of work required was at least double the amount of time I had available and could possibly provide.

Whenever I tried to do any statistical stuff with my own students’ accomplishments on final exams, on standardized tests, or even letter grades, after a year with me,  I was consistently mystified: nothing ever seemed to correlate with anything, or if they did, the correlation coefficients were extremely low. My personal experience in this regard leads me to suspect that there is so much unexplained, seemingly random, variation in human performance, desires, and so on that any sort of ‘value-added’ measurement is going to be bogus.
For the record, since Rhee and her colleague team-taught the entire 3rd grade class at Harlem Park during her last year, then, if you believe the rhetoric of Hanushek, Rhee, and others, then she and her co-teacher were responsible for the growth (or not) of the entire cohort. (BTW: who was that other ‘miracle’-worker? Evidently someone a lot less arrogant and prone to self-promotion than Rhee!)
To quote one of my posts:

“The cohort that started the first grade at Harlem Park in 1992-1993 had 84 students, probably 3 or 4 distinct classes.

“When they arrived in the second grade in 1993-1994 and endured Michelle Rhee’s second failed year of teaching, they still had 83 students – probably 3 or 4 classes again.

“But when this cohort arrived in the third grade in 1994-1995, Rhee’s “miracle year”, their numbers dropped by nearly half, to only 44 students. I doubt strongly that so many students dropped dead. I can’t prove it, but I would not be surprised if the school (and Rhee) ‘counseled out’ the ones who were doing poorly, and kept the ones who had high test scores.”

So, even though half of the students ‘disappeared’, the most that miracle-worker Rhee could do is to get the rest up to somewhere near the 50th percentile.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. agreed re mathews colum, but it’s a start and is getting a lot of attention.

    Hey Guy – how about giving direct credit in your blog to edlharris, the person who did all the investigation and sent you the data? He sure deserves it.

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  2. Yes, Ed certainly deserves a round of applause for bringing this important article to the attention of the public.
    Thanks, Ed!

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  3. The other teacher is Michele Jacobs. She was 38 in 2007 when she” taught in a combined third-grade class with Rhee in 1994-95, said: “I honestly would go with what [Rhee] says…She probably is correct. I know it was high gains. It definitely was high gains.”

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  4. I cannot believe you used the term “lame-stream media.”

    That said, I feel like neither Jay Matthews or you put enough emphasis on the disappearance of half the cohort. Matthews might have been unaware of it, since you didn’t mention it in your blog post that he references in his article. Make sure he knows! As you have pointed out, too many test score “improvements” are really due to careful editing of which students take the test!

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