Thursday, August 26, 2010

RTTT contenders hoist with their own petard

In his article, Why I'm Feeling Sorry for Sec. Duncan, Rick Hess laid out a few of the problems with the process.

I'm going to snip some.

program design was not equal to the weight it was being asked to bear (what with its murky criteria for judge selection, ambiguous scoring system, focus on promises and grant-writing rather than accomplishment, and the remarkable emphasis that Secretary Duncan placed on union "buy-in" in round one).

This led to "bizarre round two RTT results" and Duncan could "take the scores at face value or he could override them." There were conflicting results when it came to ranking state data systems, clarity and strength of charter laws, teacher furlough policy, with the RTTT "winners" running close to last nationally.

Then there's New Jersey. They "finished out of the money by three points due to [paperwork mistake] and [being] savaged by a reviewer who repeatedly fixated on NJEA opposition." That's funny. Hidebound bureaucratic nit-picking. Who'd a thunk it?

Gov. Christie's take? "The first part of it is the mistake of putting the wrong piece of paper in," he said. "But the second part is, does anybody in Washington, D.C. have a lick of common sense? Pick up the phone and ask us for the number."  Oh, Governor.  I feel your pain. Do you feel mine?

"Louisiana and Colorado had set the standard when it came to walking the walk on teacher quality: 'Unlike top contenders Colorado and Louisiana, California did not pass statewide legislation that would mandate a complete redesign of teacher evaluation systems.'" The judges' verdict? Two reviewers trashed Colorado on teacher quality. Whoops. And less than a month ago, Duncan described Louisiana as "leading the way" with data systems that monitor teacher preparation programs and student performance. Double whoops.

Other words and phrases: "furious" "they've been steamrolled" "winners made empty promises" "played fast-and-loose with the facts." "can't fathom how the judges made their determinations."

"Duncan strategically skipped over Hawaii's current lack of a permanent state chief, a reliable statewide data system, or any substantial record of accomplishment on teacher quality--and the fact that a new governor will take office in January."

Isn't that ironic? There seems to be a problem with evaluations of states and their worthiness for federal money.

States that overhauled their systems (for the good? No one knows.) lost out to other states that didn't. In the graphic at right, you can see a few of these reforms. Were any of them successful? We don't really know. In education, success is measured in longer terms than one or two years. There isn't a good way to know jack diddly squat about a reform until the dust has had time to settle. Merit pay, charter schools, new standards like Common Core (which some are already decrying before they've even been implemented) - will they work?

"Who knows? Who cares? They're not OUR kids. Our kids go to private school."

One of the big criticisms is that the states haven't developed an evaluation system for teachers and that teachers should be happy to accept merit pay and bet as much as $10,000 on the results of state tests that kids don't really care about. How's the state evaluation system working?

The same people are now complaining that the "program design was not equal to the task", "murky criteria", "ambiguous scoring system," "focus on promises and grant-writing rather than accomplishment." Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

It's similar to the way a lot of administrators reach conclusions about the worthiness of faculty. Ambiguous, murky criteria. Skip over important details. Fixate on unimportant ones. Lacking common sense. Poor evaluation design. But I'm supposed to wager my paycheck on that?

States are complaining that judges make mistakes, unfairly fixate on meaningless stats, slam imperfect paperwork, ignore their own metrics, and give money to the wrong people by any measurement. Duncan could "take the results at face value or override them?" Based on what -- his vast experience as a teacher? Minutes or hours?

There's so much irony here, I could just ... , well ... , hoist.

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