I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Apparently there was some news this week about a whistle blowing in Ukraine or something. In the ILYBYGTH International Offices, though, the stories below were the top ones to grab our attention:

Whom do Americans trust? Well, nobody, really. But they trust school principals more than they trust religious leaders. From Pew.Pew principals or preachers II

What’s wrong with judging teachers by students’ test scores? The view from Florida at TBT.

teachers who don’t even teach math or reading receive VAM scores based on the school’s average, not what they’ve done in the classroom. They are judged on variables they can’t even influence.

The answer is not that complex. Put in place a good principal — a good leader — and let her run the school and build support. If she rates a teacher “highly effective,” the state should trust her judgment and not micromanage by wielding a flawed VAM score as a cudgel. It’s one thing to measure performance in the classroom. It’s another to use a faulty measurement that unfairly punishes some good teachers and deprives students who need them.

So, wait: ARE religious children more generous? A retracted study leads to more questions at PT.

In 2015, a paper by Jean Decety and co-authors reported that children who were brought up religiously were less generous. The paper received a great deal of attention, and was covered by over 80 media outlets including The Economist, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, and Scientific American. As it turned out, however, the paper by Decety was wrong.

What should evangelicals do about getting kicked off campus? One piece of evangelical advice at RNS.

Today, evangelicals should not take to social media to complain that Christian conservatism is under attack. Rather, we should grieve that our LGBTQ+ neighbors don’t feel safe on our campuses and do something about it.

Chicago teachers gear up for another strike, at CT.

The union’s demands boil down to a hashtag, #PutInWriting, which social media users have appended to statements of support for CTU and demands that the city codify certain promises in contract language. The mayor has promised and budgeted for more nurses, social workers and special education staff, but the union wants those commitments made in a legally binding contract.

chicago teachers strike

How many kids are praying at your public school? New app hopes to boost numbers, at CT.

SYATP phone

Does she have a K-12 plan? A look at Sen. Warren’s ideas about schools at CB.

She has been a staunch advocate for holding schools accountable for their test scores and graduation rates, describing that data as a tool to push for racial equity, though more recently she’s criticized “high-stakes testing.” She has also praised charter schools in her home state while pushing for greater oversight of the schools nationally, especially those run by for-profit companies.

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I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

It’s finally feeling like summer here in the northeast USA. And as always, the culture-war news ticker didn’t cool down this week. Here are a few ILYBYGTH-themed stories we noted from the past seven days:

What’s wrong with Value-Added Measures? Peter Greene breaks it down at Forbes.

The department the GOP loves to hate: A short history of Republican attempts to close the Department of Ed, at CHE.

sarah-sanders-tweet-red-hen

Tweeting but not eating…

To serve or protest? The Red Hen flap:

What would Elon Musk want a school to look like? At Ars Technica.

Jim Stump of Biologos takes on the ten most common misconceptions about evolutionary theory.

What does the Janus decision mean for schools, students, and teachers? Pro and con at SCOTUSblog.

Colorado takes the “liberal” out of “liberal-arts education.” At CHE.

Can we be educated and aware if we don’t know squat about religion? Grayson Quay says no at AC.

What Good Teachers Do

It’s a basic premise here at ILYBYGTH: If we want to understand why some parents are so ferociously opposed to evolution or sex ed or ugly history, we have to make an honest and sincere effort to see where they’re coming from. It works for the other side, too. If we hope to figure out why so many progressive teachers and activists are so deeply emotionally mortified by today’s push for teacher measurement, we need to figure out why they feel that way. As usual, the insights of Curmudgucrat Peter Greene offer an eloquent window into that world.

First, a little background. These days, the term “education reform” has come to be dominated by a certain way of thinking. Reformers such as Michelle Rhee and Arne Duncan have advocated a new way of looking at schooling. To oversimplify a little, this “reform” mindset wants to measure student progress at regular intervals. Only by getting hard data about student academic performance, the thinking goes, can we know what educational practices are actually effective.

A big part of this “reform” effort has included a new attitude toward teacher evaluations. In the past—again, speaking very generally—most teachers were evaluated by their school principals or department chairs. As today’s reformers are fond of pointing out, those in-house evaluations tended to sugar-coat their reviews. Almost all teachers turned out to be fantastic.

Reformers asked a fairly simple question: If all teachers were so fantastic, why were so many kids failing to learn?

There was also a fairly obvious follow-up: If we can replace faculty deadwood with effective teachers, our schools will improve dramatically.

Completing the syllogism, reformers implemented programs to use student test scores to measure teachers’ effectiveness. Good teachers could earn more money. Bad teachers could get help, or they could get the boot.

This approach to school reform has proved very powerful politically. It makes sense to a lot of people.

  • Good teachers = good schools.
  • Good schools = good test scores.
  • Good test scores = good teachers.

Yet for the past dozen years, we education-watchers have seen the rise of a new generation of teacher protests. Teachers have tried to explain to themselves and to the general public why this seemingly obvious logic doesn’t fit educational reality.

Most of these teacher-protests have consisted of patient but frustrated explanations of the difficulties with quantifying education success. Teachers feel beleaguered, attacked, demeaned, and misunderstood, they explain.

Such explanations might be helpful for outsiders to understand the tricky policy questions of teacher measurement. But they don’t quite capture the emotional distress many teachers feel. I think it is entirely reasonable for non-teachers to wonder if teachers are just lazy and spoiled. Why don’t teachers buck up—some might ask—and submit to evaluations that are a standard part of every other profession?

This morning we read an essay that might help bridge this gap. Peter Greene did not set out explicitly to deflate the presumptions of value-added reformers. Not in this essay, at least. His description and prescription for extra-curricular advising, though, is something every quantifier should read.

I’m biased, of course, because I whole-heartedly agree with Greene. On the narrow topic of advising as well as the bigger picture of the essential errors of those who seek to quantify good teaching. As always, I invite SAGLRROILYBYGTH to point out those places where my personal bias has led me astray.

Here’s Greene’s advice in a nutshell: teachers who serve as faculty advisors for student projects need to keep their priorities straight. Whether it is planning a prom or a yearbook, students need to be allowed to do the work themselves. They need to be allowed to make mistakes. In essence, students need to be allowed to be inefficient, unprofessional, and maybe even just plain wrong.

Why? Because that, Greene argues, is the essence of learning. As he concludes,

Lord knows, I have failed miserably many times. But I keep working at doing better. There are few things as cool as seeing your students realize their own strength, their own voices. For them to look at a project, a performance, a Thing they have created and to realize that the Thing is them, themselves, taken form in the world and taken a form that is completely in-formed by who they are.

But every time you take a choice or decision away from them, you tell them “Well, this is a thing you can’t do” or “You couldn’t handle it if anything went wrong” and that message just makes them smaller. Don’t give them that message. Don’t lead them to suspect that their voices aren’t legit, can’t hold up, shouldn’t speak out.

Confidence comes with competence, but students aren’t always good judges of their own competence (and in some times and places they don’t have much to judge). But we can help them build both by giving them support and freedom. Maybe you are a genius visionary and students will benefit immensely just by following in your wake and sweeping up the crumbs of your attention and direction. But for the rest of us mortals, giving students the safe space to figure out how they will get things done in the world and still be their best selves will just have to do.

What does any of this have to do with teacher evaluation? It doesn’t, at least not directly. For non-teachers, however, those who don’t understand why some teachers are so steamed by the imposition of value-added measures, it can help immensely.

Greene articulates in this essay two things good teachers do that value-added teacher evaluations make difficult. First, as Greene says, good teachers always work to remind themselves that the focus must be on the students, not the teacher. As Greene puts it, “It’s not about you. Yeah, we can type that out in forty-foot font.”

For good teachers, the continuous struggle is to remember that they themselves are not the main point of their work. Their excellent activities and creative lessons mean nothing if students don’t learn from them.

Value-added measurement pushes teachers to reverse that thinking. Instead of helping teachers with the difficult task of what Greene calls “the vanishing test,” value-added measures push teachers to make their own performance their first worry.

And, of course, there’s a more basic lesson to learn here. Good teachers do things that are both extremely difficult to do and utterly impossible to measure. Good teachers have the wisdom to give students what they need, when they need it. Good teachers put themselves last and students first, even if that means the students fail.

How can a test measure that? How can any number capture that?

Maybe more important, value-added measurement misses a basic and vital part of good teaching. Good teachers must allow students NOT to succeed sometimes. Learning, after all, does not happen by simply adding knowledge to ignorance. Real learning consists of fits and stumbles, mistakes and adjustments. Good teaching, Greene reminds us, is the impossible human task of guiding young people through those infinitely complicated steps.

If a test exists that can measure such things, it can’t be taken with a number two pencil.