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, June 13, 2012

Born to Teach?

Via Twitter, Leonie Haimson points us to a post by Gene Glass about every refomyist's favorite academic mercenary, Eric Hanushek. This piece mostly concentrates on Hanushek's absurd contention that money doesn't matter in determining school success (I'll leave it to Bruce Baker to explain that it most certainly does). That's important; but what really intrigued me about Glass's piece was this:
Hanushek is nothing if not a believer in the unconditional truth emanating from his regression equations. But of course, those equations have not always been as clear cut in their implications as some might believe. In 1997, Hanushek published an article in which he argued that a summary of dozens and dozens of correlation studies proved that teacher experience is unrelated to their students’ achievement—the financial implications being obvious. He presented the following summary of studies that investigated the relationship (in terms of regression coefficients) between student achievement and their teachers’ “years of experience.” 
Although a statistically significant regression coefficient for “teacher experience” was six times more likely to be positive than negative, Hanushek nonetheless read the results as negative for the effects of teacher experience on achievement. “Importantly, … 71% [of the regression coefficients] still indicate worsening performance with experience or less confidence in any positive effect,” he wrote. 
The logic of this conclusion is illusive—no; it makes no sense. Of results that reach statistical significance, 85% (60/70) are positive; students of more experienced teachers achieve at higher levels. Of the statistically non-significant results that can be determined, 55% are positive, but fail to reach conventional levels of significance. Hanushek creates an impression of no effect of teacher experience by lumping together the category (1) “indicative of worsening performance or less confidence of beneficial performance” all significant but negative coefficients (5%), (2) all nonsignificant coefficients whether positive or negative (30% + 24%) and, (3) remarkably, the 12% of the coefficients that were so incompletely reported that it could not be determined whether they were positive or negative. The treatment of these data is hardly even handed. By such logic, ten “positive studies,” “no negative studies” and 100 studies so poorly reported that the results could not be discerned would lead Hanushek to a conclusion of no confidence in a positive result. My reading of these results is much different from Hanushek's. Regression studies have generally shown a positive relationship between teacher experience and student achievement. Period. [emphasis mine]
This is, of course, one of the reformies' favorite arguments: after the first few years, experience doesn't make much difference. It's the basis of coming up with illogical and unworkable schemes like NCTQ's teacher pay "restructuring." The problem is that it is a house built on statistical sand.

But it also brings me to a larger point: if Hanushek and NCTQ and all the other reformyists think experience doesn't make a great teacher, what does? Bill Gates says it's not advanced degrees. TFA is predicated on the idea that it's not extensive training. What's left?

Talent, I guess. Which never changes with experience, training, or education. Either you're a good teacher after a couple of years, or you're not, and nothing can change that.

Folks, does that make any sense to you?

I'm not saying that talent doesn't matter. I'm not saying that some people won't show a natural ability at teaching, just like any other field. But it's absurd on its face to think that experience doesn't matter. It's silly to think good education and good training won't make anyone better at what they do.

The notion of an innate super-teacher, however, fits nicely with the corporate CEO/hedge fund manager worldview. They see themselves as extraordinary individuals, imbued with special powers. Their mirrors reflect the image of Nietzschean supermen who deserve their obscene wealth due to their inherent superiority.  No wonder they believe a great teacher is simply imbued with top-rate pedagogical abilities. It's a Ayn Randian fantasy: Howard Roark as Mr. Chips. And it plays directly to their own vanities.

The problem, of course, is that it has nothing - nothing - to do with reality.

ADDING: Via Miss Katie, this was always the plan:
As one of its deficit-reduction strategies, the District 65 administration plans to replace all teachers who retire or leave the District with teachers who have three years of experience and a lower salary level. Before that proposal becomes policy, some Board members would like to know its potential impact on student learning. 
In a proposal to the District 65 School Board discussed at the May 29 Board Policy Committee meeting, Human Resources Director Beth Sagett-Flores said, "There is a large body of research that has examined the relationship between teacher experience and teacher effectiveness. There is evidence that teachers in their earliest years of experience have a significant impact upon student achievement.
The proposal also stated that this research, "like much of the research in the field of education, does not lend itself to deriving definitive conclusions." Because of that she said, the District is implementing a "rigorous screening process to review each application, using decision-making criteria and standards consistent with best practices. …" to ensure that the District hires high-quality teachers. [emphasis mine]
We're data-driven! Except when we're not. Or something. It's confusing...

Someone send Ms. Sagett-Flores this post, would ya? Before her bizarre dismissal of the value of experience destroys Evanston's schools.

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