A Rally for Transparency and Open Government

  

I attended a small rally for open government and transparency this morning at the Wilson Building in downtown DC, sponsored by the Washington Teachers’ Union.

The issue is a move to make it so that no one — not even the WTU, which is the bargaining agent for all DCPS teachers — would be able to see any teacher evaluation data, even with names or other identifying information redacted. To be sure, the Union is not interested in having names and scores of teachers printed in the Washington Post or put on-line. However, Using leaked data from DCPS’s first year of the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, I have shown on this blog that the evaluation system is basically invalid, since there is only a very low correlation between classroom observation scores and “value-added” scores computed by an incomprehensible “black box” algorithm whose details teachers are not permitted to see or examine.

If we had more data on these invalid scores, we would probably discover that, as in New York City, the “Value-Added” scores jump around wildly from year to year for any given teacher, even if they are teaching the exact same subject and grade level and at the same school, teaching very similar kids. (R-Squared in NYC was less than 0.1, which means essentially no correlation at all! In DC, r-squared correlation between classroom observation scores and “value-added” scores was about 0.13, also quite low.)

That’s me in the back holding the handmade sign with graphs I made. 

Published in: on June 30, 2015 at 10:37 am  Leave a Comment  

How computers “grade” essays

Computers cannot understand an essay. They can merely follow a mathematical model or algorithm that the authors hope will work. However, as one of the companies marketing these programs states in a FAQ:

“It is important to note that although PEG software is extremely reliable in terms of producing scores that are comparable to those awarded by human judges, it can be fooled. Computers, like humans, are not perfect.

 

“PEG {the software} presumes “good faith” essays authored by “motivated” writers. A “good faith” essay is one that reflects the writer’s best efforts to respond to the assignment and the prompt without trickery or deceit. A “motivated” writer is one who genuinely wants to do well and for whom the assignment has some consequence (a grade, a factor in admissions or hiring, etc.).

 

“Efforts to “spoof” the system by typing in gibberish, repetitive phrases, or off-topic, illogical prose will produce illogical and essentially meaningless results.
“How does PEG evaluate content?   

 

“Like most automated scoring technologies, PEG, when properly trained, can determine whether a student’s essay is on topic. PEG can identify the presence or absence of key words that give clues to the content. For example, references to the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria would lead PEG to the conclusion that the topic was related to the voyage of Christopher Columbus–provided that these keywords were defined prior to the analysis (or were frequently referenced in the training set).  

 

“However, analyzing the content for “correctness” is a much more complex challenge illustrated by the “Columbus Problem.” Consider the sentence, “Columbus navigated his tiny ships to the shores of Santa Maria.” The sentence, of course, is well framed, grammatically sound, and entirely on topic. It is also incorrect. Without a substantial knowledge base specifically aligned to the question, artificial intelligence (AI) technology will fail to grasp the “meaning” behind the prose. Likewise, evaluating “how well” a student has analyzed a problem or synthesized information from an article or other stimulus is currently beyond the capabilities of today’s state of the art automated scoring technologies.”
So, in sum, computers are in fact not a real replacement for human judgement. If you want to teach students to write well and solve problems involving math, you need small class sizes so that teachers can have enough time to read and reread the entire essay and/or decipher how the student solved the problem, and give sound, professional judgement on how the student demonstrated partial or full understanding, and then decide what path to take to reach a more complete mastery of the topic at hand.

Bill Gates most definitely doesn’t understand this, even though he went to schools where teachers had that sort of mandate.

Thanks to Diane Ravitch for bringing this to my attention.

Published in: on June 28, 2015 at 3:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Slave Population of South Carolina in 1860?

When the voters (ie white male population) of South Carolina voted to betray the Constitution of the United States and secede from the Union in 1861* because they did NOT believe that all men are created equal, they certainly did not speak for a majority of the state’s population.
According to the official census data for 1860, slaves constituted 57% of the population of SC at the time. In case you weren’t aware, in today’s elections, any time a candidate gets 57% of the vote, pundits talk about “overwhelming majorities”.

By the way, you should sign the petition to drop the charges against the brave woman who removed the flag of slavery, treason and racism from Charleston SC.

===================

(*I stupidly wrote 1865 originally. I don’t know why I did so. Being a pro-union kid growing up in a Border State, I am quite aware of the dates of the Civil War. Thanks to a commenter for correcting me.)

Published in: on June 28, 2015 at 8:55 am  Comments (1)  

Different Aspects of Corporate “Reform” in Newark and Montclair, New Jersey

A long article in Rethinking Schools comparing and contrasting corporates educational “reform” as it has played out in almost-completely poor, black and brown Newark and relatively affluent and integrated Montclair.

Here’s the link:

http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/29_03/29-3_karp.shtml

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 4:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Modest Proposal for Education Reform

This blogger has it nailed down tight – A Modest Proposal on how to save $150 Billion per year in educational costs and improve education by at least 100%.

(The title may you remind you of something Jonathan Swift wrote about Ireland about 160 years ago)

Here’s the link:

http://www.jamescomans.com/a-modest-proposal-for-education-reform/

Published in: on June 15, 2015 at 10:48 am  Leave a Comment  

DCPS says it is data-driven, but then hides all the important data

For a school system that supposedly makes all of its decisions based on data, the DC public schools system sure goes out of its way to hide any data that makes the higher-ups look bad.

One of those areas of hidden data involves teacher evaluations. I was leaked the 2009-10 IMPACT sub-scores from the Value-Added Monstrosity (VAM) nonsense and the Teaching and Learning Framework (TLF), with the names removed. I plotted the two scores and showed that the correlation was very, very low, in fact about 0.13, or nearly random, as you see here:

vam vs tlf dc 2009-10

A consultant for DCPS found a similar result, but I suspect she gave the value of R (about 0.33) rather than R-squared, which I have above. (link here). See this as well. I’ve also taken the data from New York City teachers that was released by various newspapers there; I found that Value-Added scores for any given teacher jumped around like crazy from year to year. For all practical purposes, there is no reliability or consistency to VAM whatsoever. Not even for elementary teachers who teach both English and math to the same group of children and are ‘awarded’ a VAM score in both subjects. Nor for teachers who taught, say, both 7th and 8th grade students in, say, math, and were ‘awarded’ VAM scores for both grade levels: it’s as if someone was to throw darts at a large chart, blindfolded, and wherever the dart lands, that’s your score. Don’t believe me? See here and here. And here.

Plus, the National Academy of Science report on mayoral control of schools in DC has shown that teachers in high-poverty schools get lower ratings on IMPACT than do teachers in low-poverty schools. Before you say, “It’s those lazy union teachers that caused all that poverty in the first place,” please remember this: under the current DCPS – teacher contract, teachers can be fired very, very easily. Every single teacher who has a job in DCPS right now was either hired by Chancellor Rhee or Chancellor Henderson, or has passed all of the teacher evaluations with flying colors, repeatedly.

(It’s also that the case that the turnover rate, or churn rate, is enormous. Some estimate that one-third of the teachers in high-poverty schools in DC quit or are fired every year; many bright-eyed, energetic young college grads (TFA or not) eager for a chance to work with our poorest and most neglected kids, find themselves utterly burned out and quitting even before the school year is over, disillusioned with the incredible work load, lack of administrative support when it’s needed, and insane, contradictory commands to do things that don’t help students learn a thing.)

Meanwhile, the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) and the national American Federation of Teachers (AFT) have been asking the DCPS administration for information on the value-added scores and classroom observation scores for the teachers that they represent. DCPS has steadfastly refused to release that information, for months, despite Freedom of Information Act requests very carefully prepared by legal staff. (That’s where some of the union dues should, in fact, be spent on!) The goal was so that actual statisticians could look over the data (kind of like I try to do on this blog, but with much greater expertise).

(The stonewalling by DCPS and OSSE is famous. Staffers who work (or worked) in DCPS central administration have told me stories about how they were specifically forbidden to give parents or teachers any information that would be helpful to the students. Similarly, the NAS report repeatedly cited examples where DCPS and OSSE refused to release needed information, or lied claimed that it was simply unavailable.)

Now, the DC City Council is planning on making ALL that teacher evaluation data officially secret and not subject to public release — not even to the bargaining agent for those teachers, their union.

That’s nuts.

I will leave you with statements by my former teaching colleague, Liz Davis, who is the current WTU president, and one by Randy Weingarter, who is the president of the AFT, on the subject.

=====================

From Ms. Weingarten:

What are the District of Columbia Public Schools and some in the city government trying to hide?

On Tuesday, the Washington, D.C., City Council will vote on a stunning new rule that would make it impossible for educators, parents and the general public to judge whether some of DCPS’ core instructional strategies and policies are really helping District children succeed.

Send a letter to the D.C. City Council and tell members to vote NO on the “Educator Evaluation Data Protection” provisions of the mayor’s Budget Support Act.

Here’s the nitty-gritty: Over a year ago, the Washington Teachers’ Union filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see the data from the school district’s IMPACT evaluation system—a system that’s used for big choices, like the firing of 563 teachers in just the past four years, curriculum decisions, school closures and more. The FOIA request was filed because DCPS refused to provide the data.

The data is essential for the union to be able to represent our members and serve our students. It’s essential to understanding and addressing the DCPS policies and practices that impact our members’ daily work. We requested the data with all personal information removed to protect teachers’ privacy.

Now, the district not only has rejected our request, it is also trying to override the FOIA laws through a radical new secrecy provision to hide the information that’s being used to make big decisions that impact our kids, our teachers and our schools.

And to top it all off, the language in the law is so poorly written, no one’s even sure what it says. The mayor’s office claims it would only apply to certain schools, but open-government advocates say that—as written—it would apply to all schools. This confusion alone is enough reason to reject this bad idea.

Tell the D.C. City Council to vote NO on this over-the-top secrecy provision.

Without access to this data, there’s no way for the public or our union to tell whether the strategies DCPS uses—like mayoral control—are helping students or simply creating school closures and high teacher turnover. And just last week, the National Academy of Sciences released a report that raises a lot of questions about whether those strategies have really moved the needle of student achievement.

Transparency shines a light on whether the District’s policies are helping kids, supporting teachers and improving schools. Hiding this data takes us in the wrong direction.

In unity,

Randi Weingarten
AFT President

================

From Ms. Davis:

DCPS wants to block access to

valuable information regarding

IMPACT scores–help put a stop to it

For more than a year, the WTU has asked DCPS for public records related to the IMPACT teacher evaluation system, even recently filing a lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court in an effort to obtain those records. This information is essential for the union to be able to represent you and to understand and address the DCPS policies and practices that impact your work.

In order to protect the privacy of educators, the union has requested this data with names and personal information redacted.

Yet, DCPS has stubbornly refused to provide that information. And now the D.C. City Council is considering–without either a public hearing or public input–legislation that would block those records from ever being disclosed.

On Tuesday, June 16, the DC City Council will take up the bill blocking access to the IMPACT records. WTU is urging members, parents and others to contact council members, whose e-mail addresses are below, and ask them to oppose the legislation.

On Monday, WTU members will also be receiving a phone that call will directly connect them to members of the council, as well as an e-activist letter that they can easily forward to the council.

The WTU is also asking that you attend the June 16hearing, if possible, and urge other education stakeholders to attend. The hearing begins at 10 am.The hearing will take place while teachers are still in their classrooms, so we encourage parents, concerned citizens, and retirees to attend.

This legislation poses a serious threat to a fair and transparent teacher evaluation system. Let’s make sure our voices are heard.

We will also be discussing the proposed legislation during tomorrow’s Union Leadership Institute at Wilson HS, 9 am- 2 pm, and what WTU members and other educators can do to help defeat it. Hope you can join us!

HERE is the letter WTU President Elizabeth Davis sent to members of the D.C. City Council urging them to oppose the legislation. The letter describes in detail the WTU’s very real concerns about the bill.

 Mayor Muriel Bowser: eom@dc.gov

Deputy Mayor for Education Jennifer Niles: dme@dc.gov

Council Chair Phil Mendolson: pmendolson@dccouncil.us

yalexander@dccouncil.us

callen@dccouncil.us

abonds@dccouncil.us

jevans@adccouncil.us

dgrosso@dccouncil.us

lmay@dccouncil.us

kmcduffie@dccouncil.us

bnadeau@dccouncil.us

vorange@dccouncil

esilverman@dccouncil.us

btodd@dccouncil.us

Published in: on June 14, 2015 at 7:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Is it just rich white parents and teachers who want to Opt Out of testing?

Um, no. Read this article by an African-American parent in New Jersey on the multi-racial movement against the corporate educational “reform” movement and in favor of Opting Out of mandated standardized testing.

Here’s the link:

http://parentingthecore.com/2015/03/28/guest-voices-opting-out-in-the-jersey-suburbs-or-white-like-me-by-belinda-edmondson/

Published in: on June 13, 2015 at 8:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

A little Tumblr fun with NCLB 

Here are a few amusing mini-sketches on Tumblr that someone made, showing how normal people generally react when faced with yet another outrage from the crazy edu-dictates of NCLB.

http://nclbsick.tumblr.com/

(You can add your own, I was told. Unfortunately, I’ve never experienced Tumblr before today and CANNOT tell you how to do that!)

Published in: on June 13, 2015 at 8:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

Watch Christie rant against teachers and then read the counterattack from a teacher

Both the video and an NJ teacher’s response can be found here or below:

https://thereadingzone.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/appalled-and-disheartened-governor-christie-how-dare-you/
Watching the video, I was appalled at the endless stream of untruths spill from that fat fool’s mouth. No mention of the fact that in Camden and Newark, the places where he claims that over $25,000 is spent per pupil, and achievement and family incomes are both very low, are booth under HIS direct control as governor of NJ. Control of those schools is not under the local school board, nor the mayors. He, Chris Christie, runs the show there. I am also willing to bet that enormous amounts of that money is going to pay for high priced consultants, central office administrators, unnecessary hi-tech boondoggles, and middle level APs or whatever title they have who make sure that teachers are following today’s’ lesson script. He is in charge. His “reformers” spouting the very same rhetoric have been in charge in those cities for about 20 years, and the kids there do not have a choice of doing vocational tech OR college. No, vocational training had been banned. And those wonderful online lessons via iPad and so on? Sorry, but they all suck. Most textbooks I’ve seen are better. And you know what? A 15-year old math textbook may indeed be kilometers better thanlesdons produced online. And you can buy those books cheap, too!

And guess what kind of schools have all the kids sitting in rows listening silently while the teacher lectures? Highly-regimented no-excuses exclusionary charter schools. You know, the ones that Christie says get great results (he doesn’t mention that it’s because they exclude or push out kids who don’t work and are rebellious — solutions that are specifically forbidden to high poverty public schools).
What a lying hypocrite Christie is!
He’s the much greater threat to this nation than ISIS ISIL!

Published in: on June 12, 2015 at 11:15 am  Leave a Comment  

Defrauded College Students at For-Profit “Universities” Face High Hurdles

I applaud the fact that USDoEd is offering debt relief to students who were defrauded by places like Corinthian College.
Unfortunately, the burden of proof will be on those students, and even getting some of the documentation they need will be hard, partly because CC is out of business and of course can’t and won’t give the students any of the documentation they will need to prove their case. Plus they need to show exactly which state law was violated by the scamming college.
I predict that most of those students will need legal help of some kind to prove their case. Will we discover a new generation of legal con artists taking on these cases in yet another scam, or will we have pro-Bono activists helping them out?

Published in: on June 10, 2015 at 6:57 am  Leave a Comment  
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