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Greetings From Due Diligence, New Jersey


I'd hope that the Governor's office would make these decisions in large part by visiting the schools, talking with informed experts, and making subjective judgments as to whether they system is dysfunctional to the point of making an intervention worthwhile. The poor absolute performance indicates a potential problem, but the most compelling evidence might not be available via data. Matt and others have done a good job demonstrating that it is very difficult to prove via data that a school or school system is "bad". However, I think that misses the point that these judgments might require significant subjectivity. The "fact sheet" could be a good tool to give some information that motivates the possibility that there are big problems in the system. Things like video recordings of incompetent teaching, mayhem in school hallways, and interviews with clearly incompetent administrators might be more compelling evidence (assuming those problems even exist!), but, of course, it is not practical (or necessarily desirable!) to produce such evidence. I used to be amazed when I read defenses by academics of schools that I've visited that were clearly awful. They weren't clearly awful because of bad scores. They were clearly awful because the classrooms and hallways were in a state of disarray, many of the students were not paying attention, many of the students were not understanding the material, many of the teachers had no control over their classrooms, the administrators were incompetent as judged by asking them basic questions and listening to their answers, etc. It's sort of sad, even though I understand the point that the data "proves" nothing. It would be a fascinating post to read Matt's subjective thoughts if and when he visits some of these allegedly terrible school systems. The data is great, but it is often insufficient to make optimal decisions. The answer is not to assume, implicitly or explicitly, that the status quo is the best path without data-based proof.

I noticed a similar issue in Massachusetts. The Justice Department decreed in 2011 that the state was failing ELL students. Why? They used absolute score data. Yet the growth data shows that Massachusetts ELLs grow at faster rates than even the average white Massachusetts student. Anyway, the DOJ action led to a settlement, soon to be fully implemented, which means 26,000 public schoolteachers required to undergo 100 hours of training. The teachers unions have tried to amend this, but to no avail.


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