It’s a Rookie Mistake

July 1, 2014

NCTQ has another report out ranking ed schools on whether they meet NCTQ’s ideas of what makes ed schools effective.  As I pointed out last year, NCTQ purports to have a strong research basis for claiming that ed schools should adhere to their standards, but that research is actually quite thin and often doesn’t support what NCTQ advocates.  I share NCTQ’s concern about improving the quality of teacher preparation, but I do not share their confidence that we know what works and certainly do not share their willingness to impose their preferences on everyone.  Unfortunately, we do not know the correct recipe for making better teachers even as NCTQ tries to make everyone cook the way they prefer.

Part of the advocacy campaign for NCTQ’s efforts is to lambaste ed schools for the fact that 1st year teachers tend to be less effective in the classroom as measured by valued-added on test scores.  According to the NCTQ narrative, if teachers do worse in their first year or two in the profession, it must be that ed schools are doing a lousy job of preparing them.  If ed schools were doing it correctly, there would be no negative effect for first year teaching.

In last year’s report NCTQ described how the shortcomings of novice teachers motivated their ranking system:

Should first-year teaching be the equivalent of fraternity hazing, an inevitable rite of passage? Is there no substitute for “on-the-job” training of novice teachers? The answers are obvious. We need more effective teacher preparation. Our profound belief that new teachers and our children deserve better from America’s preparation programs is the touchstone of this project.

And in pimping this year’s report, NCTQ’s tweeter feed repeats this same message: “If training & cert are mandatory, should be no reason to accept 1st yr as hazing ritual”  and “Novice struggle = struggle. Every year matters!”

This, of course, is a faulty argument.  Even when professionals are well-prepared, they may still improve with experience.  It is so widely recognized as a normal phenomenon that we even have a saying for people who are less good when they start — we say that they make “rookie mistakes.”  No one blames the minor leagues for the fact that big league rookies tend to be less effective.  No one denounces the Cavaliers for the fact that LeBron James got better with experience after moving to Miami.  It is normal for people to improve with experience, not necessarily evidence of their poor preparation.

But some see rookie mistakes as unacceptable in education because the stakes are too high.  Deborah Loewenberg Ball, the Dean of the Ed School at Michigan opines, with approving retweets from NCTQ, that: “Airline pilots don’t say, ‘My first few years of flying I was a wreck.’  That needs to be gone.”  We would never tolerate rookie mistakes among important professions, like airplane pilot or doctor.

In fact, we do tolerate rookie mistakes among doctors, pilots, and just about every profession.  A review of airline accidents reports that “inexperienced pilots have a 2-3 times increased incidence of mishaps due to pilot error.”  And this study of doctor errors in writing prescriptions found: “The overall detected error rate was 3.13 errors for each 1000 orders written…. First-year postgraduate residents were found to have a higher error rate (4.25 per 1000 orders) than other prescriber classes.”  In almost every profession there are returns on experience.  The striking thing about teaching is not that novice teachers are less effective, but that the improvement with experience is so small and basically flattens out by the third year.

All of us wish that doctors, pilots, teachers and other professionals would make no mistakes.  And we hope that improved training would reduce those errors.  But no matter how much NCTQ waves around the Flexner Report to justify its activities, teaching is not medicine and in teaching we do not have a scientific basis for saying how every teacher should be prepared.  NCTQ is not helped in its attempt to be the Flexner of education by mis-describing what research exists and by making sloppy errors of logic like claiming that the relative weakness of novice teachers is proof of poor teacher preparation.

These are the sorts of errors that people may be more likely to make without doctoral training and academic experience in the social sciences, which most of the staff at NCTQ and most other DC think tank/advocacy groups are lacking.  You might even call these rookie mistakes by novice researchers.


The Sweet Agony of Victory

June 30, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

This has to be one of the most priceless photographs of all time- Faye Dunaway post Oscar victory, 1977. It will have to supplement

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!

from now on.  Go score some victories so I can post Faye again soon.


Al Winner Al is Bringing It July 15th

June 26, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner) Amazon Prime just informed me that Al Copeland Humanitarian Award Winner Weird Al has a new cd coming out July 15th.  The internet refused to reveal the songs on the collection in a 30 second google search, but there are so many pop songs aching for parody now that Weird Al will likely be shooting fish in a barrel. Just in case no one else is going to suggest it, a Weird Al/Me First and the Gimme Gimmes team up would be totally awesome unless it was so awesome that it tore a rift in space-time, unleash cosmic parody forces beyond human comprehension or control, in which case it would be really TOTALLY AWESOME.


Fordham Continues to Advocate Playing with Fire

June 25, 2014

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

Imagine the following playground scenario:

Tommy: Hey guys, I have a great idea! Let’s all go play with fire! It’ll be fun!

Cate: No way, Tommy. Playing with fire is very dangerous. Someone could get hurt!

Jay: Cate’s right. I used to think playing with fire was a good idea, but I’ve seen other kids get burned.

Milt: Yeah, plus, there are lots of ways to have fun without playing with fire!

Tommy: Friends, you’ve taught me an important lesson about the dangers of fire. Okay, here’s my new idea: let’s all go play with fire, but if other kids don’t want to, then playing video games is totally cool too. How’s that sound?

If you find Tommy’s response puzzling, then you’re likely to find the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s “revised” approach to educational choice and accountability equally puzzling.

In the debate between parental choice and top-down government mandates, the Fordham Institute follows Yogi Berra’s advice: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” Fordham supports choice, but argues that the only way to prevent parents from choosing “bad” schools is to regulate them out of existence. In January, Fordham released a “toolkit” for policymakers that advocated requiring all private schools to administer the state test (i.e. – Common Core) and publish the results as a condition of accepting school vouchers or even tax-credit scholarships. Lower-performing schools would be forbidden from accepting students with vouchers or scholarships going forward.

Fordham’s proposal elicited a torrent of criticism. Andrew Coulson, Director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, and I argued that their approach would stifle educational diversity and innovation. Jay Greene noted that standardized tests capture only a fraction of the benefits of educational choice. James Shuls of the Show-Me Institute pointed to the evidence that parents hold a range of legitimate views regarding what constitutes quality. Robert Enlow, President of the Friedman Foundation, reminded Fordham that such top-down accountability has not worked in government schools—something that Fordham itself once lamented when it called certain test-based accountability measures an “illusion.” Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute expressed concern that without any clear limiting principle, mandating state tests could easily lead to mandating “certified teachers, a state-approved curriculum, state-approved facilities, a state-approved plan of emergency services,” etc.

Last week, Fordham’s incoming Executive President, Michael Petrilli, offered what he called an “olive branch” to Fordham’s critics:

While we didn’t agree with the all of the arguments forwarded by our friends, we did come to see the risk to private-school autonomy and innovation that a test-based accountability system could create. We also understood the particular sensitivity around using Common Core tests for this purpose.

Petrilli then explained that Fordham has updated its “toolkit” accordingly. But if you expected that recognizing “the risk to private-school autonomy and innovation” would mean abandoning the push to mandate state assessments (i.e. – Common Core tests), then Fordham’s “revised” approach will leave you scratching your head. In the “revised” toolkit, Fordham recommends that state policymakers:

Require that all students who receive a voucher (or tax-credit scholarship) participate in state assessments. (While we prefer state assessments as policy, we think any widely respected test that allows for ready comparison against other schools or districts is a reasonable compromise);

In case you missed it, Fordham’s “revision” is in the parentheses. Like little Tommy, Fordham claims to recognize the risk of playing with Common Core fire but continues advocating for exactly that (unless they need to compromise for political purposes, in which case other tests are totally cool “a reasonable compromise”). If Fordham truly recognizes the “risk to private-school autonomy and innovation” that Common Core poses, then why is it still calling mandatory Common Core testing as an initial preference?

Petrilli concluded by calling for “a round of Kumbaya” and then getting “back to work on expanding great educational options to lots more children nationwide.” However, expanding educational options should mean more than just which school best teaches to the Common Core tests. By all means let’s work on expanding educational options… but let’s do it right.


Milton Friedman’s case for ESAs from 1995

June 24, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Stephanie Linn from the Friedman Foundation with a great piece on ESAs noting that the great Milton Friedman foresaw the ESA design with a proposal for “partial vouchers”

“Vouchers are not an end in themselves,” Friedman wrote. “The purpose of vouchers is to enable parents to have free choice, and the purpose of having free choice is to provide competition and allow the educational industry to get out of the 17th century and get into the 21st century.” 
 
“Why not add partial vouchers?” Friedman asked. “Why not let (parents) spend part of a voucher for math in one place and English or science somewhere else.”
A longer quote from the original Milton Friedman column is well worth consideration:
No one can predict in advance the direction that a truly free market educational system would take. We know from the experience of every other industry how imaginative competitive free enterprise can be, what new products and services can be introduced, how driven it is to satisfy the customers — that is what we need in education. We know how the telephone industry has been revolutionized by opening it to competition; how fax has begun to undermine the postal monopoly in first-class mail; how UPS, Federal Express and many other private enterprises have transformed package and message delivery and, on the strictly private level, how competition from Japan has transformed the domestic automobile industry.

The private schools that 10 percent of children now attend consist of a few elite schools serving at high cost a tiny fraction of the population, and many mostly parochial nonprofit schools able to compete with government schools by charging low fees made possible by the dedicated services of many of the teachers and subsidies from the sponsoring institutions. These private schools do provide a superior education for a small fraction of the children, but they are not in a position to make innovative changes. For that, we need a much larger and more vigorous private enterprise system.

The problem is how to get from here to there. Vouchers are not an end in themselves; they are a means to make a transition from a government to a market system. The deterioration of our school system and the stratification arising out of the new industrial revolution have made privatization of education far more urgent and important than it was 40 years ago.

In other words, it is time for the parental choice movement to include but also look beyond the stock of private schools we have today. Friedman had this figured out long ago, it is time for the rest of us to catch up (as usual).

 


Governor Scott signs Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts law

June 23, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Governor Rick Scott has signed the nation’s second account based choice program. Go Team ESA!


The No-Stats All Star Retires

June 18, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Shane Battier, the man dubbed by Michael Lewis as the No-Stats All Star- has announced his retirement from the NBA at age 35 to take a college basketball analyst position with ESPN.  Battier never looked like much on the stat-sheet but when the statisticians got around to crunching the NBA they discovered that all he does is little things-like help his team win basketball games.  Battier-type “White Space” employees raise important questions about how to approach employee evaluation including teachers.

John White and I spoke on a panel together a few years ago and the topic of evaluation came up.  I sounded a note of caution but Superintendent White saw my bet and raised me by opining that we were in danger of making a fetish out of value added scores and that ultimately we should rely upon the professional judgement of administrators informed by data rather than merely the data itself. At least that is how I interpreted what White said, and if so, I agree with him.

Greg has been saying all along that ultimately this system requires choice.  Give parents meaningful choice, let Principals hire their own teams, have Superintendents evaluate Principals on the basis of the health of their school.  This strikes me as not only as the best way to do teacher eval, but also the only way to create a system to recognize the value of woefully under-appreciated highly effective instructors.  To choose another sports analogy developed by Michael Lewis, the pay of Left-Tackles took off after the advent of free-agency in the NFL.  Once a true market for players had been established, guys who had the skills to block a Lawrence Taylor found themselves in high demand, whereas the old system kept their compensation under wraps.

There are only a few states where we might be inching towards meaningful levels of parental choice, probably fewer still if any where the school leader has anything approaching a free hand to choose their own team. Mechanistic programs that attempt to identify and reward and remove instructors will be better than a unconditional tenure and dance of the lemons system but will never match a system in which trained professionals with healthy incentives exercise professional discretion. The Heat for instance hired Battier because they understood that there is a great deal more going on than the stat sheet, and won a couple of championships.

The primordial soup is slowwwwly starting to bubble…

Now imagine a burnt out and disgruntled Charles Barkley riding the bench of the Heat as a player in 2014 drawing a bigger salary than LeBron because the coaches can’t make best use of their salary cap…


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