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  • Success Via The Presumption Of Accuracy

    Written on July 27, 2011

    In our previous post, Professor David K. Cohen argued that reforms such as D.C.’s new teacher evaluation system (IMPACT) will not by themselves lead to real educational improvement, because they focus on the individual rather than systemic causes of low performance. He framed this argument in terms of the new round of IMPACT results, which were released two weeks ago. While the preliminary information was limited, it seems that the distribution of teachers across the four ratings categories (highly effective, effective, minimally effective, and ineffective) were roughly similar to last year’s - including a small group of teachers fired for receiving the lowest “ineffective” rating, and a somewhat larger group (roughly 200) fired for having received the “minimally effective” label for two consecutive years.

    Cohen’s argument on the importance of infrastructure does not necessarily mean that we should abandon the testing of new evaluation systems, only that we should be very careful about how we interpret their results and the policy conclusions we draw from them (which is good advice at all times). Unfortunately, however, it seems that caution is in short supply. For instance, shortly after the IMPACT results were announced, the Washington Post ran an editorial, entitled “DC Teacher Performance Evaluations Are Working," in which a couple of pieces of “powerful evidence” were put forward in an attempt to support this bold claim. The first was that 58 percent of the teachers who received a “minimally effective” rating last year and remained in the district were rated either “effective” or “highly effective” this year. The second was that around 16 percent of DC teachers were rated “highly effective” this year, and will be offered bonuses, which the editorial writers argued shows that most teachers “are doing a good job” and being rewarded for it.

    The Post’s claim that these facts represent evidence - much less “powerful evidence” - of IMPACT’s success is a picture-perfect example of the flawed evidentiary standards that too often drive our education debate. The unfortunate reality is that we have virtually no idea whether IMPACT is actually “working," and we won’t have even a preliminary grasp for some time. Let’s quickly review the Post’s evidence.

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  • We Interrupt This Message

    Written on October 7, 2010

    So, I’m reading an opinion piece by Harold Meyerson in the online edition of yesterday’s Washington Post. Meyerson starts by talking about how teachers’ unions get blamed for everything. All of a sudden, in the middle of the text, right after the second paragraph, the piece is interrupted by the following message:

    (Watch a video of D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee discussing the D.C. Public School system.)
    Strange, I thought. Then, right after Meyerson gets going again, criticizing “Waiting for Superman” and hailing the Baltimore teachers’ contract as meaningful progress, I am interrupted yet again:
    (For more opinions on the trouble with America's education system, read Jo-Ann Armao's "Is the public turning against teacher unions?" and a Post editorial "Education jobs bill is motivated by politics.")
    Now I am taken aback. I’m reading this piece defending teachers’ unions, and at two separate points, in the middle of the text, the Post inserts links: one to an editorial implying that the education jobs bill is a gift to teachers’ unions; one to a video of Michelle Rhee; and the third a short article by Armao that is fair but has undertones. Opinions within opinions, it seems.
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  • Accountability For Us, No Way; We're The Washington Post

    Written on August 25, 2010

    In his August 4th testimony before the Senate’s Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Government Accountability Office (GAO) official Gregory D. Kutz offered an earful of scandalous stories about how for-profit, post-secondary institutions use misrepresentation, fraud, and generally unethical practices to tap the federal loan and grant-making trough. One of these companies, so says the Washington Post itself, is Kaplan Inc, a profit-making college that contributes a whopping amount to the paper’s bottom line (67 percent of the Washington Post Company’s $92 million in second quarter earnings, according to the Washington Examiner; 62 percent according to the Post’s Ombudsman Andrew Alexander).

    One might assume that the Post's deep financial involvement in Kaplan Inc. would prompt its editorial board to recuse itself from comment on new proposed federal regulations designed to correct the problems. Instead of offering "point-counterpoint" op-eds on this issue, this bastion of journalistic integrity has launched a veritable campaign in support of its corporate education interests, and offered up its op-ed page to education business allies. It is a sad and disappointing chapter in the history of this once-great institution.

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