I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I'm Really Starting to Get Annoyed by The Education Trust

Instead of jumping to stake out a position, we at The Education Trust decided to look into what we could learn from the health care field where some data have been available on physicians for years.
We're not yet done learning. What we've gleaned so far, though, is interesting enough to share more broadly to help others who are thinking through this question. Yes, we all know there are big differences between doctors and teachers, beginning with pay and prestige. But it turns out that there are also many parallels.
Oh, do tell...
New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and California, for example, have a good deal of information available on heart surgeons by name, including, typically, the numbers of procedures performed, average length of hospital stay, mortality rates, hospital readmission rates, and so on.
OK, could you please explain to me what exactly you would compare in teacher evaluation to "mortality rates"? That's a pretty binary bit of data, don't you think? Should we do the same for kids? "This one reads/This one doesn't read."

I continue to be amazed at how little thought is given by education "experts" as to whether or not the ONE standardized test we give each year at a school is adequate to gauge not only a student's learning, but a teacher's effectiveness. Do I have to once again post links to all the flaws with VAM? The cheating? The unreliability and invalidity of the tests? The effect of non-random assignment of students?

I know heart surgeons don't have random assignment of their patients either, but there is a very good test to see if they are doing their jobs: whether their patients live or die. A standardized test graded by a grad student in scant minutes (or less), developed in secret by a state-paid contractor, is hardly as concrete.

But the 'formers keep pinning their hopes on these things without the slightest hesitancy, absolutely convinced they can "save" our kids with their data sets. It's ridiculous and depressing at the same time.
...questions of attribution might be even trickier than we think. For example, doctors -- like teachers -- often practice in teams or groups. When a patient deteriorates, who gets blamed? Similarly, doctors -- like teachers -- "treat" patients with varying levels of personal resources to follow through on "treatments." And doctors -- like teachers -- often serve patients who are also served by others (for instance, the after school reading tutor).
Hey, here's another one you might want to consider: doctors treat patients ONE AT A TIME! If you don't think there is a cohort effect in the classroom, you've never spent any real time in a school.
Finally, at least some of the experts I talked with are worried (as I am) about possible unintended consequences of increased transparency. They raise the same exact question that reverberates in our heads here at The Education Trust: If people actually know who the best doctors (or teachers) are, what reason do we have to believe that poor kids will actually get more of them? Indeed, it seems possible that the exact opposite could transpire. In at least one recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers at Boston General warn that the close association between physician ratings and the race and income of their patients could serve to widen health disparities.
Gee, ya think? Of course, there's absolutely no guarantee that a great teacher of rich kids will be a great teacher of poor kids. But, you know, I'm sure we'll work the details out later. Full speed ahead!

We may be lost, but we're making great time!

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