Gates draws the line a ‘public shaming’

Microsoft chief Bill Gates made a strong argument last week that, while teachers should be evaluated in part on the value they add to their students’ test scores, those ratings shouldn’t be made public.

“Value-added ratings are one important piece of a complete personnel system,” Gates wrote in the New York Times. “But student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work. A reliable evaluation system must incorporate other measures of effectiveness …”

This is interesting because Gates, through the education research and advocacy efforts of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has arguably done more than just about anyone to promote the belief that teachers should be evaluated on whether they improve student test scores. A majority of states, including Indiana, have latched onto the idea, adopting evaluation schemes that rely on test results.

But Gates, responding to a New York court decision, said it would be “a big mistake” to let just anyone know the results. “Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today,” he wrote. “The surest way to weaken it is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming.” Continue reading

In ‘reform’ vs. ‘status quo’: a rhetorical no-contest

Sean Cavanaugh has a good article in Education Week describing how advocates of charter schools, vouchers and merit pay have managed to label themselves as “reformers” and their critics as the “education establishment” and defenders of the “status quo.”

“Using rhetoric to frame policies in a flattering or negative light is, of course, as old as politics itself,” he writes. “But the pervasiveness of today’s education language, often echoed uncritically in the media, is striking, and reflects the extent to which self-described supporters of reform have seized the rhetorical high ground in making their case.”

Cavanaugh also notes how “reform” advocates claim their policies are good for students or children, while their opponents want what’s best for adults. He cites the “Putting Students First” agenda of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and state Superintendent Tony Bennett; Idaho Republican leaders’ “Students Come First” program; and Michelle Rhee’s new organization, StudentsFirst.

It’s an uphill battle for those who think choice, union-busting and high-stakes testing aren’t panaceas. How do you capture skepticism in an inspirational slogan?

Gates: bigger class sizes can be better

Microsoft founder and education super-philanthropist Bill Gates writes in the Washington Post that the U.S. needs to “flip the curve” to get more bang for its education buck. To do so, he says, “we have to identify great teachers, find out what makes them so effective and transfer those skills to others so more students can enjoy top teachers and high achievement.”

He makes the usual reformist argument that the key to improving education is to hire, retain and reward great teachers – and that advanced degrees and experience are unrelated to teacher effectiveness. And he suggests paying more to the best teachers if they agree to teach more students.

This makes logical sense. It will be more persuasive when elite private schools start advertising their large class sizes – you know, to better share the benefits of having excellent teachers.

Fifteen yards (and an indefinite delay of game) for taunting

Lafayette attorney Doug Masson uses a football analogy to describe the impasse in the Indiana House on his Masson’s Blog. House Democrats fled to Illinois last week, claiming that Republican over-reaching on anti-labor and education measures forced them to shut down the process.

“The House G.O.P. reminds me of one of those receivers that catches a deep pass in the open field, then starts showboating short of the end zone before being stripped by a second-stringer too dumb or stubborn to know the game is supposed to be over,” Masson writes. “It’s all the more maddening because the guy who stripped the ball is a short dude with bad hair.”

The short dude, of course, is Rep. Pat Bauer, D-South Bend, the House minority leader who led the Democratic exodus to Urbana, Ill. The dude is nothing if not stubborn.

Wait ends for ‘Superman’

The hype and buzz for Davis Guggenheim’s charter-schools documentary film Waiting for “Superman” seemed to fizzle. The expected Oscar nomination didn’t come through.

The movie apparently passed through Indiana theaters in December without much notice. But we’ll have a chance to see it again in Bloomington, thanks to the Indiana University School of Education and several student groups, including EDPOSA, the Education Policy Student Association.

The screening, at 6 p.m. Friday (March 4) at the IU School of Education auditorium, will be followed by a panel discussion with IU education professors Larry Mikulecky, Jesse Goodman and Jonathan Plucker and possibly area teachers. It’s free and open to the public.