Delaware and Tennessee won bragging rights Monday as the nation's top education innovators, besting D.C. and 13 other finalists to claim a share of the $4 billion in President Obama's unprecedented school reform fund.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan picked the winners after a team of judges in the Race to the Top competition unexpectedly gave tiny Delaware the highest ranking, with Tennessee close behind. Delaware won as much as $107 million and Tennessee could be awarded $502 million.
Leaders in both states pledged to establish national models for data-driven reform, tying teacher evaluation to student performance in an all-out effort to close achievement gaps....
In my review, I explain why this obsession with closing racial gaps that has been central to the Bush-Kennedy-Gates-Obama-Duncan mainstream consensus on education is fundamentally wrong-headed, and I conclude by offering a new, more practical, and more just alternative goal. The WaPo story continues:
The competition has generated enormous buzz in education circles and a flurry of action in statehouses to ease limits on autonomous public charter schools, revamp teacher pay and evaluation, expand the collection of student achievement data and take other steps in line with Obama's agenda. ...
Delaware's bid, backed by teachers unions statewide, indicates that the state will send a corps of "data coaches" into schools to help teachers track student performance and target lessons where needed. The state will begin new tests in the coming school year, generating achievement data to help evaluate teachers and principals.
Under the plan, student growth must be considered satisfactory for educators to be rated effective. Those rated ineffective could be denied tenure or face other consequences. The state will also offer bonuses to highly effective teachers to work in struggling schools and take other steps to link performance ratings to compensation.
I've been thinking about education statistics a lot longer than Arne Duncan has. My new VDARE.com column offers a longer perspective on these issues. Here's an excerpt pointing out that the purported research behind Duncan's trendy idea that developing data systems to find the best teachers in white schools and then assign them to Non-Asian Minority schools would, finally, Close The Gap is wholly conjectural.
According to Diane Ravitch:"So, depending on which economist or statistician one preferred, the achievement gap between races, ethnic groups, and income groups could be closed in three years (Sanders), four years (Gordon, Kane, and Staiger), or five years (Hanushek and Rivkin). "
Ravitch marvels:"Over a short period of time, this assertion became an urban myth among journalists and policy wonks in Washington, something that that ‘everyone knew.’ This particular urban myth fed a fantasy that schools serving poor children might be able to construct a teaching corps made up exclusively of superstar teachers, the ones who produced large gains year after year."
The hot new idea embraced by the Obama Administration and the Gates Foundation is to develop statistical techniques to find effective teachers, so that they can be taken out of white schools and sent to black and Hispanic schools.
It’s crucial to keep in mind that these influential papers are not studies of actual success stories of school districts that closed the racial gaps. Nobody has done that. Instead, they are merely mathematical projections of what might happen if all else remained equal. The authors are just assuming that the effect seen in one year of a good teacher over a bad teacher can be multiplied by any number of years.
For example, Gordon, Kaine, and Staiger write:"Therefore, if the effects were to accumulate, having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap."
But that turns out to be a big "if." Ravitch notes:"The fact was that the theory had never been demonstrated anywhere. No school or school district or state anywhere in the nation had ever proved the theory correct. Nowhere was there a real-life demonstration in which a district had identified the top quintile of teachers, assigned low-performing students to their classes, and improved the test scores of low-performing students so dramatically in three, four or five years that the black-white test score gap closed."
Ending the black-white disparity has been the Holy Grail of education reform since LBJ. Considering all the rewards that would befall any educator who could achieve it, you might assume that absence of evidence after all these decades is evidence of absence.
And, theory alone suggests we should be skeptical that the effects of star teachers would "accumulate" for three, four, or five years in a row. That’s due to one of the most famous concepts in economics: diminishing marginal returns.
Consider a hypothetical example from a different kind of teaching: golf instruction.
These days, I have the money and time to only play golf about twice a year. I now average about 40 strokes per round worse than the superstars of the game.
But imagine that I somehow convinced the swing coaches of Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Pádraig Harrington, and Jim Furyk to drop their most famous clients and instead each work with me intensively for one year in succession.
Assume that during the first of these four years, Tiger’s new ex-coach Hank Haney helps me cut 10 strokes off my average score, from 108 to 98. Does that mean I would therefore be on track over four years to cut 40 strokes, all the way down to 68, and thus challenge my teachers’ former pupils for the green coat at the 2014 Masters?
Of course not.
That’s almost as mindless as saying that if I then got a fifth year of world-class golf instruction, I’d be averaging 58 strokes per round and winning every pro tournament by 20 strokes.
Read the whole thing here.