Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Reformer Test Score Axioms

A few quick thoughts this morning. Here are a few axioms which have guided our testing and accountability reform advocates:

  1. Low test scores are good (shows we need change).
  2. Test scores going up is good (what we're doing is working).
  3. Test scores always go up (we see to that).

If you believe those things, you'll do what we've been doing -- periodically changing the tests to produce low test scores and reset the scale to take credit for the inevitable gains.

Reformers have come to see test score inflation as a process as "natural" and apparently inevitable as price inflation, except it is a metric that they can spin as a good thing.

The problem is that 1) and 3) don't hold anymore. People are finally accepting that the reformers are now the status quo, thus bad scores just make them look bad now. And they've managed to promote a new generation of tests which will probably not inevitably creep up, at least without a lot more overt manipulation. For example, it is easier for a state to manipulate the scores of a test that only they take compared to a multi-state exam, where everyone is going to be sensitive to comparison with other states.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Is Finland Leaving Years of Educational Achievement on the Table?

Tim Shanahan argues that Finland's "illiterate kindergarteners" are not a useful exemplar for US schools, because Finnish children are much better off in general, health and welfare-wise, culturally homogenous, and because Finnish is particularly easy to learn to read (it is very phonetically straightforward, etc).

Those are all reasonable arguments, but it isn't clear why they don't serve equally well as arguments for starting reading and more academic instruction earlier in Finland. If Finnish is easy to read, the kids are well-fed and cared for by generally well-educated parents, shouldn't they be ready to get started in kindergarten?

On the other hand, if American five year olds are less well prepared for the more difficult intellectual task of reading English, isn't that a good argument for focusing kindergarten on more fundamental behavioral and social development, building a foundation of pre-literacy skills that will bring all children along reading in first and second grade?

If you believe Shanahan, you must also believe that Finland's already high literacy achievement could be even higher -- perhaps a whole "year of learning" higher -- if they would simply start their kids reading earlier. Obviously, we don't know what would happen, but I'm dubious.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Limits of Verisimilitude in Vintage Base Ball

from Preston D. Orem’s Baseball from the Newspaper Accounts (1886):

A number of teams had small Negroes as mascots and would rub their hands in their hair for help in making a base hit. It was however very bad luck if a visiting player were mean enough to touch the hair of their mascot. For this reason some teams went to the trouble of maintaining their boy in a closed hack at the ball park and he would have to duck out as the players wanted to rub his top piece.

Mascots were short lived as such. The Phillies had a big “buck” Negro for quite a long time however. One peculiarity of this Mascotte was that, as long as he remained sober the team won, either at home or away. But this was very hard on the mascot as he was extremely fond of his liquor in large quantities and would get drunk whenever he had a chance to do so, which brought the Phillies nothing but bad luck until he was sober again. So Philadelphia hired a man just to watch the Negro’s every step and keep him out of temptation and sin.

Friday, October 16, 2015

What's TFA for Again?

Michelle Rindels:

CARSON CITY — Nevada's two largest school districts this week said they'd hired hundreds of first-time teachers over the summer with the help of recruiters, billboards and even a Clark County superintendent zip-lining through downtown Las Vegas in a superhero cape.

But when it was Nevada Board of Education President Elaine Wynn's chance to speak about the nearly 1,000 teacher positions statewide that still remain vacant and are being filled with stopgap measures such as long-term subs, she didn't mince words.

"I don't think I've ever been this alarmed in my job as I have been today," Wynn said at a board meeting Thursday, calling the situation a human resource crisis. "We're going to all sink. This is horrific."

OK, I don't want teachers to be so underpaid that only short term, barely trained, do-gooder missionaries will take the job, but if TFA, who have been in Nevada for a decade, can't fix this, what good are they?

Sunday, October 04, 2015

The Price of Ed Tech will be a Vague Dread of a Malicious School

Marcelo Rinesi:

So the fact is that our experience of the world will increasingly come to reflect our experience of our computers and of the internet itself (not surprisingly, as it’ll be infused with both). Just as any user feels their computer to be a fairly unpredictable device full of programs they’ve never installed doing unknown things to which they’ve never agreed to benefit companies they’ve never heard of, inefficiently at best and actively malignant at worst (but how would you now?), cars, street lights, and even buildings will behave in the same vaguely suspicious way. Is your self-driving car deliberately slowing down to give priority to the higher-priced models? Is your green A/C really less efficient with a thermostat from a different company, or it’s just not trying as hard? And your tv is supposed to only use its camera to follow your gestural commands, but it’s a bit suspicious how it always offers Disney downloads when your children are sitting in front of it.