About this blog Subscribe to this blog

THOMPSON: God Does Not Play Dice

GodComputerFarside-th The Education Sector's "Are We There Yet?" offers a number of caveats in its analysis of Tennessee's growth model, as well as a refresher course on Zeno.  But unless you are irrevocably committed to NCLB-type accountability, I'd skip the discussion of educational issues and enjoy the review of  ancient Greek philosophy.

Tennessee's growth model measures student progress against benchmarks based on predicted or "expected" scores needed to attain proficiency in three years. This is an analytical construct, however. It can offer no insight into what should be expected of a teacher in a high poverty neighborhood school.

Dice

In a real world setting, what growth can be expected during a year when a student buried his grandparents, was incarcerated, was a victim of domestic abuse, was shot or stabbed, saw his mental illness spin out of control, or just gave into the peer pressure of the gang? How should expectations for teachers be adjusted for a class which brings so many social pathologies into a classroom that the "tipping point" is crossed, in comparison to teachers in charters or lower poverty schools? How should a teacher be held accountable under such a model for a principal who is not allowed or refuses to enforce the disciplinary code of conduct. Can the model be adjusted for the effect of a critical mass of special education students, i.e. are expectations adjusted when the percentages of students on IEPS passes 20% or 30% or 50%? (and does it matter if your students on IEPs are sweet kids with a reading disabilities or Seriously Emotionally Disturbed and on parole for violent offenses?)

Of course, none of my objections would be major if the model was used for purposes of diagnosis, science, or a "consumers’ report."  We should pursue social science fearlessly, but we must not play dice with the lives of teachers by evaluating them with some theoretical work in progress.

At the risk of sounding too argumentative, I would especially like adjustments in the expectations for incoming students who can decode but not comprehend and whose education has been stunted by test prep, narrowed curriculum, and the other sins of NCLB.

My favorite passage of the report was "The Tennessee growth model will also reduce the number of schools identified by NCLB as falling short academically. This could be a positive change if it allows the state to focus more intensely on the lowest-performing schools." No! Models do not reduce or increase the number of failing schools. People do that.

If we want to focus more intensely on the lowest performing schools, which we should, then we should focus more intensely on the lowest performing schools. If we conclude, as we should, that both the status models and the safe harbor models of NCLB are incompetent, we do not need to embrace another statistical construct just because it is less primitive. We should use our judgments, buttressed by data, and not devise an elaborate set of algorithms that have no relation to the facts of school life. - John Thompson

Comments

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00e54f8c25c98834011168d9524c970c

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference THOMPSON: God Does Not Play Dice:

Permalink

Permalink URL for this entry:
https://scholasticadministrator.typepad.com/thisweekineducation/2009/03/thompson-god-does-not-play-dice.html

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Actually, Tennessee's data is being used in consumer-focused reporting, by a group called the Education Consumers Foundation. See rankings of elementary and middle schools based on their TVAAS performance at http://www.education-consumers.org/tnproject/spc.htm. And FYI, the foundation uses that data in programs like its Value-Added Achievement Awards and Most Effective Schools campaign.

When Obama came out in favor of some form of merit pay, a drama teacher with whom I lunch asked me, "What about we elective teachers? We don't have any test scores to show improvement for our students?" As with most education policies, there are many unexpected devils in all our details.

Here's what I would say to that student: if you don't get a good education, complete high school, and get some post-secondary education, you will never break that cycle and reduce the risk of your children, and your neighborhood, suffering the same fate.

Here's what I would say to a teacher in that circumstance: see what you can do to make your school better equipped so that you don't feel so overwhelmed. Get involved in improving schools of education, or TFA, so that other teachers can handles such situations better. Write a grant proposal (instead of, say, staying up all nigh blogging).

BTW - your model, i.e., consumer reports, only works if parents can choose where to send their kids to school. So by extension, I assume you support vouchers? Or at least public school choice (which is really one of only two real consequences for schools that do not meet AYP).

Warren Buffett's warning applies: "Beware of geeks bearing statistical formulas."

The "growth models" don't measure instructional accomplishments and they are statistical manipulations of ungrounded measures. How anyone could use them on kids and teachers with a straight face is mindboggling.

Where is "Change we can believe in" when we rreally need it?

The kind of analysis that Mr.Thompson has no scientific base; it is just the usual rhetoric that people without any vision put forward. Why do I say that? Because there is nothing good in stigmatizing school kids as poor, or reminding them over and over again that they come from broke families, that they are living in dangerous neighborhoods, and therefore, they need to be excused from the standards education applied for the others (isn't really what you imply?).
Is it possible to read the following paragraph and don't feel depressed?
"what growth can be expected during a year when a student buried his grandparents, was incarcerated, was a victim of domestic abuse, was shot or stabbed, saw his mental illness spin out of control, or just gave into the peer pressure of the gang? How should expectations for teachers be adjusted for a class which brings so many social pathologies into a classroom that the "tipping point" is crossed, in comparison to teachers in charters or lower poverty schools? "
What are you saying Mr.Thompson? That this kids have no hope? That they are destined to not break the cycle that Mr. Barone refers to in his comment? What are you trying to accomplish with this kind of rhetoric? As dr.Phil would say - How is that working for you?

Let me give you another model, Mr.Thompson, not a theoretical one, but a real one, from my life. I was born in a poor country, and my family was even poorer. I went at school with a lot of other kids like me. We were much more poor than any student in these poverty schools that you mention. We didn't have a lot of things that students in these schools have (I happen to have taught in a couple of them). HOWEVER, academically we were performing much better than these schools. And guess what mr.Thompson, our teachers never would remind us how poor we were, or how bad-equipped our schools were. They were busy trying to teach us literature, music, mathematics, sciences, art, geography, etc. And they were much, much better than teachers here in US. They never would even mention lowering standards for the poorer or for those that were coming from families with more problems than the others. Not that they were not sensitive about those issues, but because mentioning of those facts will not help us succeed, will not help us be competitive. No wonder that poor students here in US have so little motivation to moving upward. So contrary to what was happening were I grew up, and so contrary to psychological theories. How in the world, the rich kids can be so much more motivated in moving upward than the poor? The only factor that varies in these two real models, is the existence of screaming crowds of teachers like you mr. Thompson. There is no doubt in my mind that this kind of rhetoric that mr. Thompson repeats over and over does not help the poor. On contrary, damages them enormously.


Richard Cane
PhD Mathematics

The comments to this entry are closed.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in This Week In Education are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.