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

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Yet Another Media Fail on Education

This would have been hilarious if the consequences hadn't been so dire:
Last summer, the Los Angeles Times made a splash when they published the names of 6,000 teachers along with "value added" scores they derived from the examination of test score data. This came under heavy fire from many - including me, when I found myself on a panel discussing the subject. The story took on tragic overtones when a dedicated veteran teacher, Rigoberto Ruelas, took his own life. His family reported he had been despondent since the LA Times labeled him as "less effective." In spite of serious questions about the reliability of their methods, the Times has stuck to their approach. This week, a new analysis by the National Education Policy Center in Colorado has been published that thoroughly discredits the "value added" method by which they determined which teachers were more or less effective.
But the real story has become how Felch and the Los Angeles Times have responded to this challenge. Felch got a copy of the report prior to its official release, which was scheduled for today. Although the report was in draft form, Felch rushed to press with a rather ham-handed attempt to manipulate and spin the story to his advantage. His story was headlined "Separate study confirms many Los Angeles Times findings on teacher effectiveness" The story misrepresents the study's conclusions to such an extent that one of the authors, Dr. Derek Briggs, felt compelled to issue an immediate and emphatic point by point rebuttal. The study and the rebuttal to Felch are both available here.
The rebuttal should be printed in the largest possible font on the front page and then tattooed on the forehead of Felch and his editors. My favorite part:
After re-analyzing the data using a somewhat different method, the Colorado researchers reached a similar general conclusion: Elementary school teachers vary widely in their ability to raise student scores on standardized tests, and that variation can be reliably estimated. 
It is not clear here if Mr. Felch is referring to our replication or our sensitivity analysis. We didn’t say anything to the effect that ―variation can be reliably estimated‖. I don’t even know what this means. 
I can guarantee you Felch doesn't now what it means either - he is totally out of his depth, but that was true about this sorry excuse for journalism from the start. 

I also love this:
Briggs' study was partly funded by the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice, which is run by the heads of several Midwestern teachers unions and supported by the National Education Assn., the largest teachers union in the country. 
Note from Kevin Welner, director of NEPC: Neither the Great Lakes Center nor any other funder of NEPC work has any editorial voice in our work. In addition, neither I nor any other NEPC leader had any editorial voice in the work of the researchers who authored this report, Briggs and Domingue. 
So the LA Times feels it's within their rights to question the motivations of NEPC, but sees no need to report on factors related to their own motivations. 

Two major issues here:

- There should be little doubt in anyone's mind that VAM is simply not reliable enough to make decisions on pay, tenure, and dismissals.

- The media is doing a horrendous job of reporting on education.

But we already knew that...

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