A Times torrent on teachers

It is encouraging to see the New York Times continue its blanket coverage of education issues and events, even if the nation's putative paper of record sometimes misses the mark (see my Inside the Bubble) and even though it insists on giving reform nemesis Michael Winerip full rein. The last couple of days are a Times education shout-out, mostly about what is now the hottest topic in education: teachers.

Class Size.? Sam Dillon, the current education heavyweight at the Gray Lady, takes on one of the big topics du jour: how many teachers is too many teachers (aka class size). It is perhaps an inevitable issue, given the budget cuts, but Dillon at least puts the subject in a cost-effectiveness context where it has always belonged.? Despite a paucity of evidence of the true value of class size reduction ? a Tennessee study from the 1980s remains one of the few solid research supports for class-size reduction proponents ?? and lots of evidence that?the impacts of our teacher-hiring frenzy have been?small and costly, class size ?will most likely wither as a hot-button?issue in the face of economic realities.?

Grading Teachers. The headline over Michael Winerip's story is intriguing: ?Evaluating New York Teachers, Perhaps the Numbers Do Lie.?? Winerip makes a convincing case for what Mike has dubbed ?Kafkaesque evaluation protocols. Writes Winerip, ?Those 32 variables are plugged into a statistical model that looks like one of those equations that iin `Good Will Hunting' only Matt Damon was capable of solving.? And the illustration accompanying the story ? which the Times says is ?a statistical model the school system uses? ? is a bit chilling. Unfortunately, Winerip (for a brief bio see my post from last August), focuses on a single new teacher, who's not even sure if she wants to keep teaching, to illustrate what promises to be the next?evaluation crisis. The question is whether, when we get there,?Winerip will recognize the solution (local, school-level control) when he sees it.? See next entry.? ??

Firing Teachers. Another headline worth noting in full: ??Fairness in Firing Teachers.? ??The editorial is an appropriate corollary to Winerip's teacher evaluation story; actually, it takes the road that the Winerip story seems to warn against:? the mirage of??objective evaluations.?? Again, the Times walks right up to the solution, but looks the other way.??Instead of realizing that the ?Herculean effort??needed to put an objective evaluation system in place may mean the effort is misguided, the Times argues that we continue the search?for?the Fountain of Fairness.

Common Core.? Contrary to popular belief (especially in some Tea Party circles), a national curriculum, done properly, does not threaten local control.? As we learn in this story, plenty of folks, including Randi Weingarten and our own Checker Finn, have signed on to a ?common curriculum,? which its proponents say will constitute only about half of a school's ?academic time.?? Republican Congressman John Kline, who heads up the House Education Committee, has signaled his opposition, but his criticisms revolve around the rush to write the tests ? for a curriculum that isn't done.? Our own Kathleen Porter-Magee, on the other hand, argues that ?states should focus on assessments, not curriculum.??

Last in, Most Worried.? This a?sweet profile of several young New York City teachers who will most likely not have teaching jobs next year.???It's the human side of LIFO, a reminder, if we give it proper consideration, that the opposite of arbitrary and capricious is not necessarily a statistical model.? But it's also a reminder of why LIFO seems so reasonable:? these kids aren't really all that worried.

Teaching is an art, one worth studying and practicing.?

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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