This discussion now moves to the question and answer portion. I already have a sense of who this audience is and where they stand, based on the applause they give to certain points. Also, knowing what other speakers they have come to see in Aspen, this audience is definitely more on the side of the Duncans, Rhees, and Kopps, than the Ravitch.
(One problem with the current ed reform discussion in this country is that the ‘sides’ are not clearly defined. The side with Rhee is generally called ‘The Reformers.’ Somehow they got the good name. It makes it hard to oppose the without a lengthy explanation. It’s like Rhee’s StudentsFirst. How can you say “I’m opposed to StudentsFirst” without looking like a jerk? Same with saying I don’t like what “The Reformers” are doing. So the other side, which doesn’t even HAVE a name — symbolic of the inequity of resources the two sides have access to, often refers to them as the “so-called reformers” or the “corporate reformers” or even the “Rheeformers”. Strangely, both Democrats and Republicans are on their side.)
As this is a very exclusive event, we know that the people in the audience are not going to be your average Joes. In this round we get questions from two such Joes.
The first Joe (Joe Millionaire?) asks about principals who are unhappy that the TFA teachers leave just when they are getting good. She correctly responds that no principal is forced to take a TFA teacher. I’ll add that there are many principals out there who do not take TFA teachers for just that reason. Wendy then speaks about the research that the first and second year teachers are doing better than more experienced teachers.
The reality is that second year TFA teachers are quite good, which would boost the research. First years, though, are, on average, very ineffective. I was one of those ineffective first year corps members 20 years ago. Eighteen years ago, according to Michelle Rhee, she “sucked.” Teaching is a very difficult job. Teaching a new course is difficult, even if it is not your first year. An experienced teacher teaching in different school for the first time struggles. So put those two things together with the added difficulty that you’ve never done it before. It spells disaster. Everyone I knew was horrible. And the training hasn’t gotten much better since then, and the job hasn’t gotten any easier since then. I’m not going to pore over all the studies to find the flaw in them. I know that first year TFA teachers are ineffective the same way that I know that rookie baseball players do not, on average, hit 60 homeruns.
Wendy says that if you took TFA out of the picture completely, we’d lose a lot from the system. I wonder sometimes what the scene is with regard to education in the parallel universe where TFA never got off the ground. There would be no Gary Rubinstein — teacher and education blogger. But then again, there would be no Michelle Rhee. I think Rhee has done more damage than any good that I’ve accomplished.
Joe Millionaire asks Ravitch what she thinks of the NAACP lawsuit over New York City charters. The audience is probably surprised by Ravitch’s awesome response. She is on a roll, for sure. Had she known that they would lose the lawsuit and that the members of the DOE would have a happy hour to toast the approved closing of 22 schools, she would have been even more impassioned.
In my opinion, closing schools is the ‘Death Penalty’ of school reform and, like the actual death penalty, I am against it in all cases. Just like the actual death penalty, I’m opposed the NYC style closings because they are irreversible, unfairly affect the poor (yes, the poorer of the poor get shuffled elsewhere, so don’t argue that school closings help the poor), and do not serve as a deterrent for others. Knowing that this is what will happen to the 22 schools in the recent judgment that the people at Tweed drank so merrily to, truly made me sick to my stomach. I lost sleep about it, and I get sad every time I think about it.
The second no-so-average Joe was, to my understanding, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein. I first heard of Klein when it was revealed that he was the anonymous author of ‘Primary Colors’ a few years back. After hearing his views on ed reform through his question, I think he should go back to being anonymous.
First he says he’s pro-creaming for charter schools. People often charge charters with somehow excluding tough-to-educate kids from their schools despite holding random lotteries. The charters deny this, though they sometimes get caught doing it. An interesting argument, though, is that maybe creaming is a good thing. Those motivated kids get to escape their local failing school so they get saved while the others aren’t any worse off than they would have been. He then makes a comment that he lives in an affluent neighborhood and “All of our schools suck” which got a round of applause! He explains that there are four kinds of teachers 1) The genius, 2) The young teacher whose enthusiasm overcomes lack of experience, 3) the average teacher, and 4) the burn outs, who he claims are in extreme numbers. He thinks teachers should have to prove themselves to keep their jobs.
Neither Wendy nor Ravtich responds specifically to the comment “I’m for creaming”, so I’m going to put myself up there for a moment.
Creaming helps the charter inflate their statistics. The problem with this is that since they don’t admit to creaming and don’t ‘officially’ do it, other schools get shut down when they fail to get the same kind of test results. If charters made test scores part of their admissions process and we all knew that and didn’t try to compare the gains of the best performing ones to other schools, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. Not only do they ‘cream,’ but when some lowfat milk makes it through the process, it gets removed through attrition. Those kids who get counseled out have to live with that stigma that they couldn’t even get an education after winning a lottery.
Wendy says that there are good schools, and the difference is that they have good leaders and a sense of purpose, whatever that means. Charters laws are ‘the enabler’ since leaders are freed up from regulations. What regulations, specifically, she doesn’t say.
Ravitch brings up a little known point about the PISA scores. Obama recently gave a speech about how we were 25th out of 34 countries on the PISA math test. This proved we were in a crisis. Ravitch puts this number into perspective: We never did well on those international assessments (the first one in the 60s, we were 12th out of 12!). I’ll add that when you take our PISA scores and compare our low poverty schools to low poverty countries, we are very high on the list.
Neither Wendy nor Ravitch addresses his claim that the burnout teachers are in extreme number. I have taught in a lot of schools, and have not found this to be the case. Teaching is a tough job, and it does not pay that well. When people are not good at it, students misbehave and it becomes a very unfulfilling job, so they get another job. There are easier ways to make $30 grand than having kids mock you. So ineffective teachers self-select themselves out of the profession, generally. Perhaps in the affluent district where Klein’s kids went to school, there were many burned out teachers for various reasons I could speculate, but won’t here. If a respected journalist can say “All our schools suck” and that burned out teachers are in extreme numbers, I’m pretty frightened.
The next question is about violence in the schools and about something that had happened recently in Los Angeles where the L.A. Times published a list of the most ineffective teachers based on one effectiveness rating system.
Wendy, again, talks about how “it is happening” in Philly in “growing numbers.” She gives an actual number, which is 6 to 10 schools showing what is possible. The big difference when it comes to violence: School leaders who say “Not in my building.” I wonder if she is referring to charter schools that boot kids out for common disciplinary infractions?
With regard to the teacher effectiveness ratings, Wendy says some very interesting things. First she says, it’s not about just fixing the teachers. I’d agree with that, though this is in opposition to what Michelle Rhee seems to think. I would have loved to see Wendy answer if she agrees, in general, with Rhee’s agenda.
Then Wendy says something extremely revealing. In her new push for why we need more leaders to create transformational schools in which teachers can more easily succeed, she admits that it is “rare” for a teacher to be such a superhero that he / she can have a big impact in a school that is not transformational. The runs counter to two things about TFA. The first is that TFA thrives on claiming how many of their corps members are being transformational outside of a transformational school. Now she is admitting it is “rare.” The other is that training teachers to be effective in dysfunctional schools is the original mission of TFA and why I signed up to do it 20 years ago. Having followed TFA since 1991, I see that TFA is on its third mission. The first was to fill voids in hard-to-staff school systems. When I taught in Houston, there was such a shortage of teachers that had it not been for me, my classes may have been taught by a rotating group of substitutes. Even though I was not very effective, at least I was someone who was consistently there. TFA made a new mission, also a good one, around 1994 — to really close the achievement gap. When that mission didn’t work out, they put all their eggs into a new basket: develop these tranformational leaders who can lead schools that can succeed with mortal teachers. This is a strange new ‘silver bullet,’ particularly when we see the lack of wisdom that the high profile TFA leaders have demonstrated.
This statement about how rare transformational teachers are is one of the most honest things I’ve ever heard from TFA. I’m genuinely surprised she would admit it. It’s like she’s saying that the first two missions of TFA were failures, but now we’ve figured out the true way to fix this problem, so support us on this new ‘leadership’ mission. They were wrong about their first two missions, why should we trust they have now figured it out? The best leaders I know from TFA are people who taught at least 7 years. The high profile leaders that are TFA celebrities have generally taught 2 or 3 years. This is why they lack the wisdom to know in which direction to lead.
Wendy admits we need to develop teachers and, of course, “move some of the out.”
She finishes with the lofty claim that “We found a solution to the epidemic. Let’s blow it out.”
Ravitch points out another thing that many people don’t realize — how inconsistent and inaccurate teacher effectiveness ratings are. I’ve studied this and seen the same teacher can be effective by one measure and ineffective by another. Also the same teacher can be effective one year and then ineffecive the next year. Teacher effectiveness is not something that can be measured the way we can measure profit. We are a long way from having accurate measures, yet we are already using these inaccurate measures to fire or otherwise humiliate teachers.
Ravitch mentions an example where a gifted and talented teacher could be in trouble, by some metrics, for her students going from 3.97 to 3.92. Lest anyone think that I am too subjective to find any faults with this saint of a woman, I should point out here that this is one of her weaker points. That principal was surely speaking hypothetically about the inaccuracies of some metrics. This teacher didn’t actually get fired. More common, though, is the other side of the coin where teachers of low-perfoming kids, like those fired in Washington D.C. recently, who are punished for not getting enough gains. Factored into these scores are students who hardly even come to school for poverty-related issues. How can a teacher be expected to be accountable for that?
On most metrics, as Ravitch points out, we see that the poor districts seem to have all the bad teachers. I’d argue, though, that the poorest districts have the most talented teachers. They’re just trying to do something much more difficult. It’s like there are high school baseball players that have .600 batting averages, but no major league players with even .400 averages. Hitting major league pitching is just that much more difficult. I don’t see us calling it a crisis that major league hitters don’t, on average, even hit .300. We’re certainly not threatening them and firing for this.
The next question is an excellent one: What are the three most concrete solutions for addressing the ed problem, and what evidence do you have?
Ravitch says 1) Good curriculum with well educated teachers, 2) Testing used as a barometer and not for rewards and punishments, and 3) Assure that every woman has good health care and nutrition during pregnancy.
Wendy says, 1) Different level of commitment among school leaders, 2) Flexibility for leaders to do what they need to get things done, and 3) Equity in resources.
The last question is from a 2008 TFA corps member. You have to wonder what sort of organization this person is in that she has a spot at this costly conference. She asks a question that Wendy has already answered: How can we get country to realize what a crisis we’re in? I wonder if she is taking a dig at Ravitch. Replace ‘country’ with Ravitch and we see one of the most frequent critiques of her ideas.
Wendy says it is a crisis, but we are starting to see places where it is being fixed. The problem to scaling is the obstacles since many people say they struggle because “we don’t have Bloomberg” to help us out of it. She says that organizations complain that the Union voice is too strong and it’s good that new voices are entering the discussion. She concludes by reminding us again, it’s about one thing — leadership.
Ravitch points out that this reform movement of closing down poor schools will scare teachers away from wanting to teach at one of them. She concludes with what’s supposed to be the ‘last word’ that Wendy’s claims about the success of New York City are exaggerated. State test scores went way up and then way down after it was discovered how much they lowered the standards. She also reminds us (and I do not find this paradoxical) that test scores are not everything. Some people criticize Ravitch for mentioning test scores at all if they are not very valid. But I think it is a powerful argument to tell the reformers “Listen, even by YOUR OWN METRIC, you are failing.”
The discussion finally had it’s first skirmish AFTER the ‘last word.’ Wendy suddenly insisted on making another point. Then Ravitch responded to that. This is what I wish the whole discussion was like. This reminded me of a heavyweight fight were each took turns making their point, but not enough confrontation. In the last few seconds they were suddenly really going at it.
Here’s the context of that last foray with my analysis: Wendy claims that 4th graders in New York city are performing a full year ahead of where they were 7 years ago on the national assessments. Ravitch says that it is not true, but her explanation is hard to follow. Wendy says it is true, and the one true exchange is ended by the closing bell.
Let’s look at what Wendy claims, that 4th graders are (in 2011) performing a full year above where they were seven years ago (in 2004). I went to the nations report card and checked out to see what they were both talking about. Well, there were no tests in 2004, so I looked, to give Wendy the benefit of the doubt, to 2003. In 2003, 4th graders had a score of 210 on the NAEP. The 2011 scores are not out yet, but when you look at the 2009 scores, you see that they are up to a 216. What does this mean? Well translating NAEP improvements to ‘years of growth’ is not an exact science, but I’ve read that an 11 point increase can be considered a year. Does she know that the 2011 scores are going to be 221?
Actually, Wendy misspoke again, like she did with YES. This claim is a lot more accurate, but still misleading. What she should have said is that between 2002 and 2009, 4th grade reading NAEP scores went from 206 to 217, which is considered a one year increase. That actually would have been accurate, but still misleading. Misleading because it implies that these gains can be directly attributed to the Bloomberg / Klein reforms, since that is when they took over. This is what Ravitch was arguing. The 2002 NAEP scores were 206, but the 2003 NAEP scores were 210. Bloomberg / Klein cannot take credit for the first 4 points of that 11 point gain from 2002 to 2003 since the 2003 tests were administered before they got into power. Wendy did not explicitly say that it was a result of the reforms, so she was ‘right’ about this claim had she said 2002 to 2009.
But, and here’s where I took Wendy’s advice to look up the research. That was the ONLY bright spot on the NAEP for Bloomberg / Klein. From 2003 to 2009 4th grade reading went up by seven points. I don’t know what this equates to in years, but probably something like a half a year. Then you look at the gains in 8th grade reading from 2003 to 2009 and you find that they did not increase at all. To make matters worse, when you look at 2005 results, you see that the 4th graders there had a 213 which is 3 higher than the 210 in 2003, while the 2009 8th graders WHO WERE THE SAME KIDS that were 4th graders in 2005 who got a 252 average in 2009 were now at the same level as the 2003 8th graders. In other words, the gains seem to disappear as the kids go from 4th to 8th grade. Surely our goal is to get gains that persist through the grade levels.
So quoting that stat is like saying after losing a baseball game 15 to 1, “we got one run.” If they want to have a business model they need to look at the whole picture to measure net-profit, not just look at the components that are showing profit and exaggerate those. Surely Bloomberg didn’t become a billionaire by pretending his profits were greater than they actually were.
Klein wrote about his successes in a recent Washington Post OpED, which was then challenged by a Columbia Professor here. Then Klein answered back here, highlighting the 11 point 4th grade reading gain.
Wendy insisted again on getting the last word that it is happening in New York and it is happening in New Orleans. New Orleans has been ‘charterized’ by a lot of TFA run schools. It is tough to get accurate data about what is supposedly going on there. The tip of the iceberg, however, is revealed in this recent article.
To complete the boxing analogy. Ravitch wins bout by unanimous decision, but not, unfortunately, with a knockout. Wendy was too squirmy for Ravitch to get a clean enough knockout punch. Wendy, however, should have been disqualified in the second round for the faulty YES stat — her only concrete example of the ‘growing number’ of successes.
Well, this brings this analysis to a close. I’m exhausted from it, but I hope this gets widely read. I do plan to do the same thing for the upcoming Ravitch / Rhee debate on August 19th 2011, in Martha’s Vineyard. I’ve dubbed this upcoming bout “The Showdown In Edgartown.”